Nov 28, 2007

Riflemind

Riflemind, showing at the Sydney Theatre, although closing soon, is a complex, sometimes insightful, occasionally meandering, always entertaining look into the world of rock 'n' roll fame and isolation. The Andrew Upton play, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, has a stellar cast that manages to enlighten and expand the material with great performances.

To tell the story, John (Hugo Weaving) was the frontman for Rifemind, a band that enjoyed huge international success. The band has gone into a 3 year hiatus, however they gather at John's plush English country estate to plan the start of a reformation tour. John is joined by bass player Phil (Marton Csokas) and drummer Moon (Steve Rodgers), along with potential newcomer Lee (Ewen Leslie). John is arrogant and distant with the reformed band. He seems comfortable in his opulent home and appears reluctant to rejoin the rock and roll lifestyle. The other band members are all keen to start again, for varying reasons and most of the first act is raucous, spirited conversation about music, egos and reminiscing about the past. On the fringes of this conversation are their manager Sam (Jeremy Sims), whose motives for the band seem purely monetary, Phil's partner Cindy (Susie Porter) and John's fragile wife Lynn (Susan Prior) who wants to protect John from the decadent rock lifestyle, but in turn we find out she has her own demons to contain. The second act is dominated by a stunning conversation between John and Phil, who emerge as the play's two most interesting characters. As they argue, comfort and cajole each other we learn the history of their relationship and how their past has brought them to the present. The play has its strengths and weaknesses. The language is vivid and real, like stepping into the middle of a real argument sometimes. And the performances are excellent, especially the charismatic Weaving and the powerfully brutal Csokas who both shfine. Sims is also warm and funny as the talkative manager. However, some of the characters don't feel fully fleshed out, their motives a little unclear and unexplained by the conclusion. The basic premise seems to me to be this. Music exists to be a living, creative thing. When it is performed as a function of pleasure it maintains its beauty. When it becomes an industry and therefore a job, the reason for starting in the first place ceases. The band "Riflemind" could exist on stage happily, but outside the arena, the pressures involved caused the band to stop. A meeting in the country only fueled all the old animosities, but seemingly they are creatures of habit. So, as they say the show must go on. This is a play with great entertainment value. It chronicles the pitfalls of the music business and documents the frailty of those involved in it. And even though the play has its moments of weakness, the robust performances elevate it to a substantial work.

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