Bruce Hoogendoorn is probably Canberra’s most prolific playwright, having written and produced six of his own plays in as many years. His latest play, Warts & All, which Hoogendoorn directs himself, is his most accomplished and entertaining work to date.
Warts & All follows the story of a young man, Simon, whose promising athletic career is jeopardised by the onset of osteoarthritis. Simon is sent to live with his grandmother, Margaret, who, in an effort to shake him out of his depression, encourages him to join her in preparing a family history. Though reluctant at first, Simon’s interest is piqued when the ghost of a long-dead relative appears to him. In his enthusiasm to unravel an intriguing family secret, he unwittingly ignites a feud between his grandmother and some long-estranged relatives.
Heading a strong cast, as the boy, Simon, Will Huang gives a satisfyingly well-rounded and committed performance. Convincingly portraying his affection for his grandmother, evident in constant barrage of good-natured and often hilarious banter, Huang’s re-actions to the events unfolding around him are a constant joy to watch. Equally as engaging is Helen Vaughn-Roberts as Simon’s acerbic but loving grandmother, Margaret, and their scenes together are delightful.
Hoogendoorn’s decision to cast veteran actor, Oliver Baudert, as Margaret’s adversary, Alice, is surprisingly effective. But despite Baudert’s beautifully detailed and interesting performance, with not a hint of campiness, the idea ultimately works against the play, because as the play contains so many unexpected twists and turns, the expectation is that this cross-gender casting will be revealed as yet another plot device.
Rob De Fries adds great strength to the production with a charming performance as the somewhat confused ghost, Barry, whose surprising revelation provides the key to solving the family mystery. Adellene Fitzsimmons and Elaine Noon as Alice’s grand-daughter Kirsty, and the town-historian, Dotty, both provide interesting characterisations, but both would be more effective if they followed the examples of their more experienced colleagues and slowed down their delivery to let Hoogendoorn’s excellent lines do the work for them.
The play works so well that one longs to see it presented with a little more production than the minimalist setting of tables, chairs, bed and a double-sided cupboard. But a good lighting design by Kelly McGannon and some well-chosen costumes by Miriam Miley-Read do much to overcome this deficiency, and it says much for Hoogendoon’s initiative, tenacity and growing confidence in his directorial and producing talents, that Warts and All emerges as both an excellent showcase for his maturing writing skills and an intriguing and entertaining night of theatre.
Director / Writer: Bruce Hoogendoorn Featuring: Rob De Fries, Will Huang, Helen Vaughn-Roberts, Adellene Fitzsimmons, Oliver Baudert and Elaine Noon Lighting Design: Kelly McGannon Costumes: Miriam Miley-Read
Warts & All
Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Season continues to 19 April 2014
Image: Will Huang and Rob de Fries – by Kelly McGannon
Review: Bill Stephens