With his latest play, Vere, John Doyle has created a marvellous vehicle for a talented cast to employ their skills and, in turn, the cast has delivered a truly memorable performance that does justice to the playwright’s words.
Vere (Faith), presented by the State Theatre Company of SA and the Sydney Theatre Company, is the story of a brilliant academic who is beginning to show signs of dementia at the age of just 62.
Paul Blackwell, as Vere, is exceptional. He has the sense of being a slightly eccentric physics professor while still being erudite about poetry, art and other academic disciplines; he also captures the intelligent man who knows he is quite quickly losing all that is dear to him.
Act one begins unassumingly with Blackwell delivering a final lecture from Professor Vere, and we soon learn of his condition. We then witness his academic colleagues discussing and debating academic topics when they are unexpectedly paid a visit by a somewhat sleazy and suggestive Vice-chancellor.
Act two is set in the home of Vere’s son and daughter-in-law, who are having the parents of their son’s fiancée to dinner.
Vere and his family are atheists with science backgrounds, while his son’s son has fallen in love with a young woman whose parents are deeply religious. In this mix is Vere, who, because of his condition and his remaining intellect, freely injects obscure comments, the occasional offensive remark, and insightful, unnerving logic and rational debate.
Doyle’s witty and clever play requires the actors to play Vere’s peers in act one and then his family members and guests in act two. Topics discussed in the first act creep into the second, and Vere begins to confuse family and guests with his colleagues. It’s a device that works for the actors because they play contrasting characters, and for the audience because we can understand Vere’s confusion and degeneration.
Director Sarah Goodes accentuates the rhythms of the dialogue, fills the theatre with dramatic pauses and has every actor creating well-defined characters.
Blackwell delivers every comic line with a punch and he has the audience entranced when reciting poetry, speaking of his departed wife or feeling the frustration of his debilitating disease.
Geoff Morrell revels in playing the vice-chancellor – who, because of his age and seniority, can pretty well say what he likes – and Roger, the priest who is blindly devoted to his faith without being very knowledgeable about other worldly matters. Yalin Ozucelik equally differentiates between his slightly off-beat academic lecturer (complete with a model of Dr Who’s T.A.R.D.I.S and a social media obsession) and his very genuine portrayal of the son of Vere, who struggles to see his father deteriorate but who cherishes any lucid moment.
Rebecca Massey is hysterical as the all-knowing, self-righteous, vacuous Christian mother, while Ksenja Logos is excellent as the mother doing all she can for an awkward family dinner to go well.
Pip Runciman’s set is simple yet effective, and allows the focus to be on the cast.
John Doyle has created situations that are fraught with conflict between people of opposing faiths (or beliefs), written some very funny lines, and provided us with some compassionate moments of genuine warmth that provide a greater understanding of the impact of the decline of a significant person on family and friends.
Vere is a very fine piece of writing and a very well-staged Australian play. All the performances are intelligent, comic and moving, but Blackwell delivers a truly remarkable portrayal in a distinctive and memorable production.
Vere, presented by State Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company, is at the Dunstan Playhouse until November 2.