Girl in Tan Boots
By Tahli Corin
Directed by Janice Finn
Designed by Daniel Williams
Costumes by Liz Mitchell
Tuesday 11 March, 2014 to Saturday 22 March, 2014
The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, CBD, Auckland.
Published at http://www.theatreview.org.nz
I’m a sucker for a good psychological thriller and ‘Girl in Tan Boots’ sits comfortably within this genre.
A newish work by award-winning Australian playwright Tahli Corin, ‘Girl with Tan Boots’ comes to us following a critically successful season at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney but with a new cast and director and a whole bunch of new lines. Often, repositioning a play from one environment to another – in this case from Sydney to Auckland – can lead to a cultural clankiness that creaks and groans its hour upon the stage and we hope never to see – or hear – it ever again but not so for clever Ms Corin who seamlessly shifts her scenario from St Leonards in Sydney to Britomart in Auckland with never a cultural – or literary – wince.
Don’t be misled: this isn’t the Sydney production revamped but an entirely new creation, tweaked – and twerked – for Auckland audiences by the wily Corin and an equally crafty Janice Finn, and it works a treat. Admittedly, director Finn has a cast to die for – six women of enormous talent and comprehensive stage and screen experience – but she has morphed this delicious oestrogen overload into a cohesive, narrative-driven band of storytelling sisters who dexterously embrace us and draw us deep into their dysfunctional world for seventy minutes chock-full of mystery and allure.
For me the real star, however, is actor, playwright and producer Tahli Corin herself.
Tahli Corin – playwright
If, like me, you’ve never heard of her, let me take a moment of your valuable time to update you because my guess is you’ll hear a lot more of her in years to come.
Corin is a 2003 graduate of the Centre for Performing Arts (ACArts) and has a Post Graduate Diploma in Arts and Cultural Management. She produced ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the Barossa Vintage Festival and was awarded the ‘Keith Michell Award’ for her commitment to a career in the arts.
In 2006, she was awarded the ‘Helpmann Award for Best Children’s Presentation’ for her production of ‘Hitler’s Daughter’ and in 2009 she won the ‘Philip Parsons Young Playwright’s Award’ for her play ‘One for the Ugly Girls.’
In 2012, Corin was Associate Playwright at Playwriting Australia and the Resident Dramaturg at Griffin Theatre Company. ‘Girl in Tan Boots’ was presented as part of the 2012 ‘Women International Playwright’s Conference’ in Sweden and was produced as part of the 2013 Griffin Independent season.
The publicity for ‘Girl in Tan Boots’ sums up the plot: ‘Hannah is missing, and the detective tasked with finding her soon discovers that the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are not as simple as they first appear.
Described as shy, overweight, and lacking in self-confidence, Hannah feels invisible – and now she has disappeared completely. Does it have something to do with her mysterious admirer? Or is it something more sinister? Time is fast running out for a good outcome and Detective Carapetis, along with Hannah’s family and friends, is losing hope.
Blurring the lines between what is real and what is imagined, ‘Girl In Tan Boots’, the press release reminds us, is a contemporary urban mystery play which proves that secrets and lies can’t be buried for long.
Yes, the play is all it says it is which is why I’m not going to elaborate on the plot beyond saying that it’s gripping stuff and in the hands of this stellar cast we remain mesmerised throughout. There’s clandestine witnessing, enigma to burn and the whole thing resolves as a mystery should – or does it. Check it out for yourself – but buy early because opening night was over-booked, seats were at a premium and if you want one for yourself you’d also be wise to arrive early.
‘Girl In Tan Boots’ is a play about identity – and not just Hannah’s. She’s missing, yes, and we find out an awful lot about her, but those present all have stories too and where these intriguing narratives intersect and the characters painstakingly reveal themselves is where much of the fascination lies.
Janice Finn – director
Not only is the discourse around identity the key to unlocking the play, the notion of anonymity lurks in the shadows as well. Just as Daniel Williams’ excellent set contains many unexpected surprises so does the teased-out fibre of anonymity, pseudonym and alias blur and camouflage our understanding of who is doing what to whom and why. We find ourselves delving into Sartre-like existentialism as the play – and some very fine performances – drag us out of our comfort zones and into a realm where proof of existence, and the denial of it, are paramount. It’s intellectually exciting stuff and there’s a fresh air of avant-gardism about ‘Girl in Tan Boots’ whose allure stems, at least in part, from its unstinting, if oblique, scrutiny of the spectral spaces where internet hook ups and anonymous sexual escapades are every day occurrences. Not since the profound shock of Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ in 1997 have sex, lies and the internet been confronted in such a visceral manner.
Central to the action is Detective Carapetis (Catherine Wilkin) who leads us into the shadowy world of social media, dating sites, instant hook-ups and Erica Jong’s eponymous (and anonymous) zipless fuck. Who knew catching a train every day could be so exciting – and rewarding?
Hannah’s mates and co-workers initially appear to be a fairly standard group of self-interested young women but as the layers peel away and another form of truth is exposed we see a side of them that perhaps we’d rather not be party to but, being human, our covertly voyeuristic nature ensures that we remain engrossed in the unravelling that is happening in front of us. Without this innate human prurience there would be no reality television, most theatre would die unborn, books would remain unread and movie houses remain empty and this experience is no different. We’re desperate to know what has happened to Hannah, who Grey Suit is and how he fits into this unfolding drama and, as we begin to care about the other characters too, their fate become inextricably linked with our own life experience.
As Hannah’s long-suffering mother Louise, Catherine Downes brings a crashing reality to the intrigue and she manipulates us superbly, at once allowing us in to feel deeply for her while, at the same time, presenting a sublimely human portrait of grief in ways that make us want to throw things at her.
Downes has been one of my favourite actors since I first experienced her brilliance in Peter Weiss’s ‘The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade’ on tour to New Plymouth a moon or two ago and this performance simply vindicates the view that class is forever.
Hannah’s friends, if you can call them that, are a mismatched lot.
Jodi Hillock’s cynical friend is a performance to be treasured. She’s understated, hard but vulnerable, and she doesn’t back down. Hannah’s friends have great, economical text to work with, just enough, in fact, to enable excellent actors to engage collaboratively with what they have been given to say but not be prescriptively overwhelmed by it. Hillock is a fine actor and all her finesse is on show in this role.
JJ Fong has chosen a quite different facet through which to angle her performance. The script never feels the need to explain itself and Fong has chosen not to either. She sticks to the text and allows our fascination with the enigma she has created to build and much of what she shares with us is sub-textual and enthralling.
Anoushka Klaus has the good fortune to carry much of the finer exposition and her ‘moments of truth’ shatter the through-line of the narrative and open up new conduits for us to drown in.
It’s worth stating here that Corin’s script, in the hands of Finn and these particular actors, does a fantastic job in creating a disconnect for the audience between what we ‘know’ to be true and our own reality. I left the theatre feeling acutely disturbed and the unease lasted some hours to the degree that I found myself musing ‘this is why you go to the theatre, Sunshine, this is what the theatre is all about’.
(I always call myself Sunshine when musing in this way, and invariably in a Glaswegian accent – existentialism rules!)
Toni Potter’s Antoinetta, a banker by profession, carries the baseball bat of the narrative. She’s blunt, forthright and challenging to the point of being confrontational and unbalanced. If the play has a protagonist it’s her and Potter relishes every moment. She’s at once credible and shocking, unconventional in ways that Erica Jong and Shere Hite were in the 1970’s and we love her for it. Among a plethora of beautifully written roles, Potter’s is the best and she makes every kick in the crotch count.
Please don’t be misled, however, by allusions to existentialism, Satre and other such cerebral notions into assuming that this play is exclusively highbrow because it certainly is not. It’s incredibly funny, sassy, sharp and wildly entertaining. These are certainly serious actors but they’re comedienne’s as well and their comic timing is a joy to behold.
And you should aim to – behold it, that is.
‘Girl in Tan Boots’ is a fabulous play, rich in its own right, and in the hands of this fine cast and guided by Janice Finn, it sings its own praises. Even the characters who people the play but don’t appear are created with real panache, men like Darren, the man with the mullet, and Grey Suit. It’s as though we’ve met them all and, as if this wasn’t enough, this all female cast – you have no idea how much I love saying that (sorry, guys) – are dressed by Liz Mitchell and all look divine, tan boots and all.
Keep an eye out for the glitter and sparkles, though, they’re bound to give you a pleasant surprise when they appear.