The Camel

Harry-McGee-and-Myfanwy-Hocking-star-in-The-CamelThe Camel ruminates on a topic that has been plaguing artists since early humans first daubed stylised antelopes on damp cave walls – ‘am I any good at this?’

Despite being a perennial and therefore potentially very dull problem, it actually makes for a fascinating study of impostor syndrome and the relationship between art and artist, especially in the capable hands of writer Dylan Van Den Berg.

The dialogue sparkles with wit, compassion and the kind of absurdity that extracts your most awkward laugh at full volume.

This long-delayed production is low key, allowing the actors space to explore the action without distractions (with the notable exception of the very vocal camel to which I will return).

Myfanwy Hocking and Harry McGee, and director Marni Mount, clearly understood the quality of the script and both actors gave generous, rounded performances that instantly connected with the audience.

The scale of the challenge for the actors in this piece is, however, great. Playing a fraternal relationship requires an enormous degree of familiarity and work, especially in a two-hander where that dynamic is not diluted by the presence of other characters.

In this respect the writer demands a lot of his actors. The well-worn and easy intimacy between Hocking and McGee as siblings, as fractious a relationship as it is, was under-developed.

And while both actors have a marvellous sense of comedic timing, the many hilarious moments in the piece were played at times to the detriment of some admittedly subtle but nonetheless vital opportunities to explore the darker facets of the characters’ internal lives.

The moment when McGee’s character reveals he has a liquor flask stored in the sleeping bag he occupies for most of the play stands out as one example of the kind of rich texture that was not explored in this production. A pity as the humour in the text is amplified by the injured humanity of its characters.

But let’s get back to the titular camel. Equal parts monster under the bed, psychotic break and magical realism, the ‘camel-fication’ of artistic self-doubt is hard to assess.

It provides ample comedic intervention into what is otherwise a gloomy thematic backdrop, and as its presence waxes larger and larger through the piece it eventually corners us without an answer to the central question.

I was left unsure as to the resolution we were expected to settle on. Perhaps a resolution is deliberately lacking and we will all just have to live with our artistic insecurity in perpetuity, whether it takes the form of a spectral camel or not.

Depressing and almost certainly true, but beautifully tempered by the heroic camel mimicry of McGee’s final, tortured, roar.

The Camel
The Motley Bauhaus, 118 Elgin Street, Carlton
Performance: Wednesday 210 July 2022
Season: 20 – 23 July 2022 (ended)

Image: Harry McGee and Myfanwy Hocking star in The Camel (supplied)

Review: Daniel Townsend