The New Theatre’s goal is to promote fresh talent in less prominent productions aimed at discerning ‘thinking’ audiences, who expect originality in their theatre-going experiences and who demand more than the same old flamboyant ‘guaranteed hit’ musicals playing around town.
They have hit the mark with their latest production based on John Steinbeck’s classic 1940 Pulitzer Prize recipient The Grapes Of Wrath which later spawned an acclaimed film starring Henry Fonda and Tony award-winning Broadway play.
Set during the great depression of the 1930s, the story surrounds the Joad family who pack their truck and confidently head from drought-stricken Oklahoma to California where work allegedly abounds in this ‘promised land’. But is their attempt at new beginnings to the ‘rich and green’ a disastrous journey in vain? Is this anticipated heaven on Earth just a deception?
Theatergoers who have read the novel or seen the film will initially ponder whether this play may be too mammoth an undertaking for Independent Theatre, as many storylines concentrate on their road trip and disastrous flood scenes.
The set designers have succeeded with basic props including tables and wooden crates in creating the illusion of a truck and flood sequences materialising on stage without water through clever lighting and sound techniques. An ounce of imagination is all that is required from audiences to visualise these scenes.
Dramatic with humorous elements the play is quite lengthy at a running time of 130 minutes. Intermittent narration, songs and dance aid in storytelling which detract restlessness in what may otherwise have been an exhausting first act to sit through. To avoid confusion extreme attentiveness is important, as there are 17 actors on stage many of whom portray multiple characters.
Momentum builds in the second act with loud explosions of emotions on stage as death, family breakups and the reality of their journey to tragedy becomes apparent. The whole theatre is effectively transformed into a stage, as the actors run up and down the stairs in pivotal action scenes.
This is an ambitious production of Grapes Of Wrath which should appeal to older audiences who enjoy live arthouse theatre. (MMo)
Until Sep 7. New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown. $20-$35+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.newtheatre.org.au