Friday 28 March 2008

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Critical Acclaim

© John Sawyer – March 2008

I’ve decided to live out my days as a theatre critic for The AGE. 

I’m lucky the job came up really. My contract defusing mines in Lebanon ran out and I wasn’t keen to go back to my earlier role as a UN observer on the boundary wall along the buffer zone between the Greeks and the Turks on Cyprus. Very unsafe and very unrewarding.

I’ve certainly got the credentials: opinionated, biased, subjective, prejudiced, unfair, and partial. I can churn out a good 500 word yarn in less than an hour and I’ve got a turn of phrase that is enhanced by my childhood propensity to memorise whole sections of Roget’s Thesaurus. 

I’m looking forward to living out my days safely, hobnobbing with the bohemian acting crowd and the glitterati from the Melbourne industrialists, miners, auditors and consultants who compete with each other by throwing money at the local arts.

Tamsyn Johansen is a blonde actor with delicious blue eyes, great teeth and a mouth with a slightly crooked cupid’s bow. I met her at an opening night six months ago. My review of the play read: “The other actors had done their best but Johansen is a promising young actor who positively sparkled in the turgid darkness inflicted on us by the author. Melbourne is well rid of that third rate has-been hack who’s abandoned his home for Sydney.” We’ve been sleeping together on a regular basis ever since. Arrh, me and Tamsyn that is, not the has-been hack.

Tamsyn and I are standing at our seats in the sponsor’s section on the very top balcony of the State Theatre. We’re discussing the first two acts of Swan Lake and Tamsyn is loving it so far. “I wish I’d stuck it out at ballet school sometimes. All those beautiful frocks, the glamour and excitement. And the crowds. It seems far more interesting than delivering some bleak English or American dialog wearing woolly jumpers, dirty overcoats and old tennis shoes.”

Damn! Mandy Morgan has just pushed past and taken the vacant seat next to Tamsyn. Mandy is an IT expert with a local cardboard box maker. She’s rumoured to be on with her boss and she’s quite mad. “So I see you’ve got yourself a new young squeeze to hang off your arm now shitface.” Mandy was my last girlfriend and she hasn’t forgiven me for breaking up with her. “It’s almost inevitable. Some young upstart gets her gear off on stage and she’s rewarded with a brilliant review and six months of boring missionary sex with you. It’s all lovie dovie until the next young ex soapy star drops her dacks to titillate you and few hundred old age pensioners.” She’s also quite unfair about the missionary sex. As far as I remember she wanted to watch herself in the overhead mirror. A bit disconcerting really.

On stage Diana and Camilla are now dancing off for the heart of their own dashing Crown Prince while up on the balcony Tamsyn and Mandy compete for my attention by throwing barely hushed epitaphs at each other. The former Eastern European ambassador in the row behind is getting angry. “Shush you cursed, cacophonous, capitalist cretins.” He’d learnt his English by memorising the dictionary a letter at a time and generally spoke in alliterations. This is a big night for him and his wife. They’ve overdressed. He’s in a dinner suit and she has an opulent if slightly dated cocktail dress. Between them they’ve used a whole can of hairspray to keep their luxuriant bouffant hair styles in place. 

The women on stage are now grabbing at their lover. The balcony bitches are trading blows and I push myself between them. “Down in front!” “I say, sit down man.” Despite my previous roles I’m a devout coward really, and my mother had taught me not to attract unwanted attention. I try to sit but slide backwards over the rail onto the balcony parapet. Tamsyn grabs a trouser leg. The former ambassador grabs the other trouser leg. In the clamour, his hairpiece slips off. “Travesty, that treacherous, troublesome, toupee travels towards the terracing.” I watch it float past into the lap of a matron in the stalls below.

The matron screams. I scream in unison as my braces break and I slip out of my trousers, fall and bounce my head against the railing in front of the A Reserve Dress Circle on the next level down.

I grab hold of a spotlight and while I hang there bleeding and screaming, my mind is showing flash cards from its lexicon of falling disasters: Fall, drop, dive, tumble, nose-dive, crash, collapse, trip, float. Float sounds good, but we’ve already had that. Hmm! Plummet, plunge, descend. Descend! Descend it is. I’ll defy the force of gravity and descend down to the stalls, just like a ballerina.

It’s no good screaming any more; the conductor is whipping the orchestra into a musical frenzy and those musos who can see me suspended in my underwear and shirt tails are too disciplined to stop.

The melodrama on stage reaches its sad climax, the curtain drops, and the audience claps wildly. My spotlight is pointing at the orchestra and when the music stops, it comes on and my hands are slowly burning to a crisp. “Encore, encore” I yell. “Repeat, reiterate, recap, recur, replicate. Play it again” “For God’s sake, don’t stop the music.” It’s too late. The audience continues their acclaim, their approval, their acclamation, their applause. From above I hear the ambassador shouting: “Electrifying ensemble endangers eclectic evaluator.” The orchestra bows. I let go and …

3 lives lost. Game over.
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