Reality television is a recent genre for television programming, first airing in the 1970’s. It differs from documentary television in that drama, personal conflict and entertainment are the motivation not educating viewers.
Darlinghurst Theatre Company in June 2016 presented A Man With Five Children an insightful drama about the process and consequences of reality television by renowned Australian playwright Nick Enright.
It was performed at the iconic Eternity Playhouse Darlinghurst, a very cosmopolitan inner-city eastern suburb of Sydney.
This was the final production in a three year series honouring Nick Enright’s playwriting prowess and generously supported by the Enright Family.
Sadly Nick Enright died in 2003 at the height of his creative output and this was his last major play.
The play’s relevance and significance eminently qualifies for further productions and in my opinion the status of an Australian classic.
Nick Enright’s international success was exemplified in the intelligent script Lorenzo’s Oil (1992) that he co-wrote with its director George Miller and which was co-nominated for an Academy Award.
In The Man With Five Children the protagonist Gerry (Jeremy Waters), a documentary maker, sets out to capture the lives of five children on film. His camera will denote one day a year, every year until they turn twenty one.
Questions surface as the intimate details of the lives of the five children are shown on national television.
Do the scenes depicted actively reflect reality?
Whose reality? Is Gerry an astute impartial observer or is his interest and influence controlling and altering their lives?
Have the five participants identity, authenticity and own narratives been lost in the translation to popular television viewing?
Can the five participants reclaim their lives back from the powerful clutches of the media that flagrantly infiltrated their sense of self and their place in the world?
The complex issues of changing times and attitudes, the invasive nature of media manipulation and the vulnerability of the participants was skilfully crafted into a sharp, compassionate and judicious play.
The drama continues to have universal relevance with public revelations of the anxieties and turbulences within relationships, the struggles of belonging and analytical probing set against the questioning need for taking responsibility when extracting mass media film material.
Anthony Skuse, one of Australia’s leading Directors has reimagined this discerning drama to create a work of boundless energy, astute characterisation and a vision that reflects the cult of reality celebrity that continues to invasively permeate the media world.
In his Director’s Note he writes “A Man With Five Children is by no means a straight ward or unproblematic text. Its provocations around identity, representation and authenticity, as well as its interrogation of the role of media in our lives and its ability to reflect a lived truth, remain as unresolved and pressing.”
The direction is impeccable, the balance of projected images and staged reality is finely tuned, coherent and crafted with sincerity and finesse.
Anthony Skuse’s direction is fused with the poignancy, perception, innovation that challenges and enhances the theatre audience’s appreciation, knowledge and understanding.
The impressive staging of A Man With Five Children by Anthony Skuse warrants a national tour so that it might be treasured by the wider scale audience it deserves.
In the opening scene five children burst onto stage playfully innocent. They were strategically selected to speak for young Australia by Jerry who wants to chart their lives and reveal their personalities and aspirations.
The five children’s roles are convincingly portrayed by adult actors who sensitively embrace the spontaneity and exuberance of childhood.
The optimism of childhood dreams is tempered by the tensions and themes of racism, bigotry and stereotyping.
Questions of sexual orientation and the challenges and complexities of adolescence emerge.
Jerry’s observation of the evolving personalities is ever present. His longing to be directly involved in their lives is tinged with manipulation and a bizarre yearning.
The innovative use of projecting images and the simultaneous dialogue on stage and screen builds tension and escalates rhythms.
The sanguine use of repetition is confronting and at times echoes the insecurity and vulnerability of the five participants.
Jerry’s manipulation and preconceived assessments mask the ambitions and self- scrutiny of the five puppets.
They discover it’s “all a big game.” Jerry’s personal and inappropriate responses to both his wants and needs, in addition the participants’ confidences and actions sow the seeds of disillusion and the motivation to reclaim the integrity of their lives.
The richness of this production is amplified by the fine performances of the entire cast.
They are tireless in the portrayal and development of their characters over the course of their personal histories in a two and a half hours running time.
The cast’s ability to convey the essence of reality television that is unscripted real life situations is testament to their talents and their sympathetic connection to the themes of the play.
Their meticulous timing ensured the performances absorbed all the nuances of reality television while simultaneously presenting the wonder and magic of theatre.
The Creative Team meet the vast challenges of this production with a contemporary flair aligned to the playwright’s intent.
The play wrestled with contemporary themes that expose an invasive reality where intimacy is blurred and distorted by ruthless editing and public exposure.
The eclectic blend of juxtaposing traditional theatre with technological imaging is integral to both the themes and performance of the play.
The production speaks eloquently of our fixation with reality television and prompts a pondering about personal and public boundaries.
A Man With Five Children is collaborative, current, relevant and a finely constructed mosaic of the blurring lines of reality television.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016