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Love Me Tender

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There’s an unsettling sense of foreboding that sets in early in Tom Holloway’s Love Me Tender and never lets up.

Directed by Patrick McCarthy, Holloway’s play—first performed at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre in 2010—is episodic in form, alighting on its five characters in self-contained scenarios that are linked thematically rather than chronologically, revealing a web of influences as varied as Greek tragedy, Australian Gothic, and the contemporary media’s sexualisation of teen girls.

In and amongst these thematic knots, there is a mysterious relationship between a doting father (Brendan Barnett), his daughter, and his wife (Sarah Ogden), and a country cop on the trail (Matt Epps)—rounded off by the larrikin commentary of Holloway’s version of a Greek chorus (Nick Pelomis and James Tresise). Ashlee Hughes’s set design recalls the solemnity of an Australian bush cleared by fire, as the cast duck in and out of the shadows of lighting designer Lisa Mibus’s sparse plot.

McCarthy notes that Holloway’s primary inspiration is the Euripides play Iphigenia at Aulis, concerning the war hero Agamemnon and the forced sacrifice of his daughter. Feelings of doom accompany Holloway’s opening scene, in which Barnett’s anxious father watches the birth of his baby girl, gasping for life.

There is also a parallel drawn between Agamemnon’s surrender and the ways in which our contemporary culture sacrifices young women’s esteem to consumerism and cheap entertainment. The script is at its sharpest, and most lucid, when it strikes satirically at these aspects.

Other scenes rely too heavily on Holloway’s lyrical writing and never achieve the dynamic promise of theatre. It is as though the production’s latent dread contaminates McCarthy’s direction, resulting in an overall sombre tone that doesn’t wholly complement the subversive and potentially captivating elements of the text.

Love Me Tender is playing at Theatre Works, St Kilda until March 2.
For tickets visit theatreworks.org.au.


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