Who knew Griffin, of all theatre companies, would go for the stage equivalent of a chick flick? I’m being flippant, of course, but Van Badham’s The Bull, The Moon & The Coronet of Stars is a kind of romcom. Kind of. It finds its roots and inspiration in Greek mythology. She isn’t pretentious about it, though: even her characters are candid about the symbology.
Michael and Marion wander on stage, making casual conversation. Michael (Matt Zeremes) is attired in a pinstriped light grey suit, albeit sans tie. He could’ve come straight from the office. Marion (Silvia Colloca) is in jeans and a pretty, brocaded top. She could’ve come straight from home.
The pair begin talking about Michael and Marion in third person narrative, but quickly become them, taking us from outside to inside the story. It’s a device that serves to concentrate the mind and spark one’s imagination. These are required responses for the relatively short duration of eighty minutes: as set (Anne Tregloan’s, clever in its use of empty timber display cabinets, moved around to define different places and spaces), props and costumes are minimal, tending towards non-existent and many actions, settings and events are implied, only obliquely portrayed, or merely described.
Michael is a married publications manager at a museum; Marion, an artist-in-residence in a de facto relationship. Their fatal, if slow-burning attraction (we’re talking sparkler, to begin with, not bunger) begins with stolen moments in the office kitchen and culminates in a tempestuous, urgent romp during a nocturnal vigil at work. But as is so common with office affairs, or used to be, Michael returns to the comfy, familiar sanctuary of his lacklustre marital bed, leaving Marion, whose fallen heavily, emotionally destitute and suffering the pangs, slings and arrows of outrageous guilt over her faithlessness.
Director Lee Lewis has her actors draw the parallel with King Minos’ false promise to Poseidon to do in his prize bull in the sea god’s honour. In Michael and Marion’s case, the bull isn’t slain, but parades around the ring proudly, before being rough-ridden well enough to set a sexual rodeo record. (At times, it’s hard to find exact lineups between the ancient labyrinth and Harry Met Sally retelling: I take it Badham and Lewis have opted for an unapologetically amorphous draw down; a sketch, rather than photoreality.) Not even Marion seems to realise, or be capable of admitting, her ‘love’ is really for the ‘bull’, the beast with two backs, not the man.
While Badham-Lewis (I see the partnership and influence on the production as empathic and equal) play mainly for comedy (lending the piece a refreshing, but hardly ever trivial, breeziness), they wittingly or unwittingly shine a light on good, old-fashioned sexual inhibition; a passé, but still pervasive tendency to punish oneself for succumbing to overwhelmingly powerful, natural urges. Many of us don’t like to so much as acknowledge the ‘animal’ in ourselves, let alone unleash it.
Thus, Marion responds to this frightening unbridling of the bull by stepping into an ascetic state of self-denial, escorting elderly amateur artists to a coastal retreat, supposedly oblivious to the possibilities of holiday romance. How we delude ourselves! Inevitably, she happens upon Mark, a sleazy sommelier and wellspring of all things hedonistic and self-serving. As before, with Michael, there is no immediate force of attraction; it’s by erosion, not explosion, that it comes to the fore. Mark isn’t her type and she’s not his, but they find salvation and redemption in each other’s arms. Um, that sounds a little Mills & Boon mythological. It’s much better, in the flesh.
Zeremes and Colloca are neat fits for these roles as they come across as relatable human beings, rather than actors, or gods. Zeremes can launch from deceptively static, softly-spoken and mild-mannered to roaring physical rampage. Colloca has a knack for nuance communicated through a gestural vocabulary that’s liable to include tweaked eyebrows, curled lips, stares and looks askance. Her hint of Italian accent, overlaid with plum-in-mouth hyper-Britishness, is at once distracting and alluring.
This tight-knit team is a winner. Badham’s writing is well-sustained and Lee Lewis brings her quirky, allusive vision of rapacious romance vividly to life. Not only is a minotaur slain. So is an audience.
The details: The Bull, the Moon and the Coronet of Stars will play at the Griffin Theatre, Darlinghurst, until June 8. Tickets on the venue website.