Will Eno’s Wakey Wakey feels about as genuine as a Hallmark card
Justin Hosking and Nicole Nabout in Wakey Wakey.Credit:Teresa Noble
Wakey Wakey ★½
Will Eno, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, St Kilda, until May 19
New York dramatist Will Eno treads into the great unknown with Wakey Wakey, a play about death – or rather, embracing life in the face of it.
Since Neil Pigot’s striking performance of Thom Pain (based on nothing) for the MTC in 2007, Red Stitch has staged Eno's Middletown and The Realistic Joneses with mixed success. You get a sense from his oeuvre that Eno is so philosophical and playful a writer, so bent on constructing theatre as a labyrinth for embedding big ideas inside, that his work can bamboozle audiences and actors alike.
He’s an acquired taste, in other words, because you must lose yourself in the plays to find their value – and before that happens, you have to discover a way in.
Justin Hosking.Credit:Teresa Noble
David Myles’ production of Wakey Wakey fails at the first hurdle, and the result is banal to the point of excruciation. The play proves a self-conscious investigation of the meaning of life, and it needs a charismatic, utterly fearless, soul-baring performance to avoid seeming like a walking, talking Hallmark card.
You must lose yourself in Will Eno's plays to find their value – and before that happens, you have to discover a way in.
Eno doesn’t shy from drifting into what can sound like woolly headed, new Age sentimentality; his urge to universalise the experience of life’s finitude, and to present an anthology of human responses to it, seems to require a peculiar insistence on the particular, in order to ground all the “seize the day”-type clichés.
Strong personality and precise emotional nuance must be crafted from elusive and unpromising material. There isn’t much for lead actor Justin Hocking to go on: a man in a wheelchair, who used to be a swimming coach, delivers impromptu musings on happiness, suffering, wisdom, innocence and experience (all wrapped in a meta-drama on the nature of theatre), as he faces the final curtain.
Unfortunately, Hocking lacks compelling presence. He seems miscast, too timid and too effortful to draw us into an end-of-life fireside chat, and less comfortable performing in an Aussie accent than the American one he mastered overseas. It’s a sad fact that the internet videos he plays us are more absorbing and entertaining than anything the theatre provides.
When his carer (Nicole Nabout) finally intrudes, things get even worse, provoking a spot of reiki, a kitsch childhood regression, and a slide into bathos that will leave you desperate to “seize the day” elsewhere.
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