We are, whether we like it or not, storytellers. We tell stories through out the day to each other and ourselves – to explain or reveal or uncover truth or reassure, find consolation or direction. We run narratives of our lives and our identities: who we are, where we are from. It’s not new. It’s not even special. It’s not remarkable that we are story tellers. Often we are story thieves – retelling someone else’s anecdote or chasing around the story in the recesses of memory – and in those moments transmogrification may, and does occur. We tell other people’s jokes, we pass on rumour and gossip.

Simon Stone is right. Adapting stories is what people do.

Sure. I agree. No argument there.

I don’t know the Eugene O’Neill play which Stone has re-written, so I can’t and won’t comment on its truthful representation. I will comment on the content and the flavour of the content of the production. The synopsis on the Belvoir website:

“When it begins, Nina is 20 and has just lost her fiancé, golden-boy Gordon, to war. The great regret of her life is never having consummated their relationship. Crushed by grief, she drops out of university, blaming her father, leaving his house for a career as a nurse. A series of flings with wounded soldiers follow, until she settles for marriage with the devoted Sam. Just as her life seems set to be renewed, a buried secret springs up from the ground of his family history, once more preventing Nina from finding the relief she craves. One by one she tries on and discards all the roles available to her – daughter, wife, mother, mistress – and through it all keeps struggling to return to her true self, prevented by the demands of her own desires, and caught in a mesh of sticky predicaments by an accumulation of irreversible decisions.”

Stone’s text tumbles out of the mouths of actors in a casual, contemporary Australian vernacular. Characters poke and prod at each other and we the audience privy to the internal worlds of the characters – clench as we see agendas form, trust betrayed. Nina (Emily Barclay) is centre of this universe and she, with great need and small conscience rattle the men around her – fickle and changeable. The men play out their roles to enable her – the father, the husband, the lover, the admirer, the son – all orbit around her tiny frame. She makes decisions that somehow ensure she sails on through, regardless of the impact/oblivious of the affect on those around her.

There is a strong message that emanates from the play – it seems to talk of selfishness in love and in relationship: a portrait of love which is practical and self-serving – and ultimately necessary for survival.

Strangely though, there are a few aspects that don’t exactly ring true for a contemporary context: paternity testing and birth control. I don’t think the forgone conclusion of marriage translates to Australia since 70s new wave feminism. I also don’t think the necessity to remain married is such a high-stakes pursuit, not now, and not even when there is a child to consider. These are some social relics of a bygone era.

Standing on a sound stage, lit by large, obvious moving lights, the drama is framed as a film drama. A narrative within a narrative. We see the actors push furniture, set scenes, assemble furniture. We see them orchestrate their own action.

It’s a stark black on white funeral.

What seems so difficult for me about this production is, the emotional subject matter is put under stark lights. Examined under bright lights and exposed for all to see. Through the blinding glare, characters make their lives with conversations, whilst inner monologues whirr beneath. This convention seems strange and a little extraneous to me – and sometimes intrudes into the pace and flow of the dialogue. The scene changes see the characters scuttle about.

This is a very straight forward telling of the story.

Text heavy. and without the bold imagery which has dominated the work I have seen by Stone thus far.

It seems that Stone’s handling of emotional content is often diffused by sexual content and sometimes harshly examined under bright lights – a clinical examination of human behaviour. It also seems that the preoccupations of his work centre around fidelity and ambition – and the relation between the two. For me it’s not the matter of how Stone is telling a story, but which stories he’s telling, and why… strangely the effect for me is often a cerebral one – but misses one important ingredient. Warmth. Without warmth from and of and to the characters the emotional content seems estranged and alien. The style is not following content – we watch the cheeky young men think their ways around situations. We hear the inner turmoil and mumblings of a mad and well meaning man in Sam (Toby Truslove) – and we observe him locked away. Madness is not unleashed – but private and contained. Strange it seems as well that Nina (Emily Barclay) never really matures beyond her twenties – despite the time span of the narrative. She might gesture – but does not carry the wise gravitas of a woman and mother who has survived her own actions and heartache.

Strange Interlude feels like the expert work of a bionic doctor – who has completely reconstructed the bones and restore the function of the limbs – and at moments there are incredible feats of human capability (strategy). But it feels like a piece of controlled observation, the surgery done on the O’Neill is clear, clean and sewn up with easily dissolved stitches… but I don’t think the content is so easy or crisp.

Relationships in particular in the face of love are devastating. And although the practical philosophy of “love the one you’re with” is dispensed easily, it is a hard, bitter, messy ride in Strange Interlude. We are asked to face the practical truth that love and marriage and sex is all a choice – all practical – all tragic – all arbitrary. That something so all consuming can be so simply strategized.

And that is tragic.

At least it is, for me.