Last night, sitting in the audience for Griffin Theatre Company’s production of Tattoo, I found myself struck by the following passage of dialogue: ‘I stick / my needle into your flesh / again and again / a Tattoo / which you’ll keep / for life / a mark / indelible.’
Last night, sitting in the audience for Griffin Theatre Company’s production of Tattoo
, I found myself struck by the following passage of dialogue: ‘I stick / my needle into your flesh / again and again / a Tattoo / which you’ll keep / for life / a mark / indelible.’
Powerful stuff. It seemed a stroke of luck, or fate, that I should stumble across these same lines written on the production postcards in the lobby. Or maybe not, given it’s the passage from which the play takes its title, and what, as a piece of theatre" it intends to do to its audience.
Here’s another one, short enough to stay in the mind even without the aid of postcards: ‘Love is silent.’ In a play which centres on a father’s incestuous obsession for his daughter, these three words become the darkest of proverbs. The father in this case is Oven-Wolf (David Ritchie), a respected village baker, his victim-daughter the teenage Anita (Sophie Kelly). There’s also the younger sister, Lulu (Megan Drury), who stands next in line for her father’s attentions, and their tragic mother, Dog-Face Julie (Sandra Eldridge). Events seem to take a turn for the better when Anita attracts the romantic interest of Flower-Paul (Simon Corfield), but (with a name like that!) does he have the will to stand up to Oven-Wolf?
While it suffers, like so many plays, from a somewhat indifferent ending, Dea Loher’s writing is layered and darkly poetic, often breathtakingly so. The performances of the cast, likewise, were all convincing, though for me the most nuanced were given by the parents in this dysfunctional family. I hope David Ritchie will take it as a compliment when I say that he reminded me more than a little of Clifton Webb, a la Preminger’s Laura
, in terms of both his appearance and portrayal of Oven-Wolf. But the standout character and performance belongs to Sandra Elridge’s Dog-Face Julie, whose allergic reaction to dog-washing soaps has left her scratching at imaginary fleas, muzzled with a dust-mask almost permanently over her face. To my mind, Julie is one of the most fascinating grotesqueries the theatre has seen in years, and Elridge inhabits the role with utter conviction.
The production crew make the most of the limited theatre space, the use of light and shadow on the backdrop creating an eerie, Nosferatu
-like moment towards the end (full credit to set and lighting designers, Amanda McNamara and Martin Kinnane, respectively, as well as to director Rochelle Whyte). Less successful, for me, was the decision to have the actors not needed for a scene stand in plain view at the edge of the performance space. This broke the play’s spell somewhat, which otherwise was cast very effectively throughout.
In the cold light of morning, yes, Tattoo
has left its indelible mark on my psyche. I dare say it’s not the kind that will wash off easily, even if I wanted it to.
By: Dea Loher
Translated by: Michael & Michael
Presented by: Griffin Theatre Company
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Season: 6 - 28 March
Times: Monday 7pm, Tuesday – Saturday 7pm, Saturday Matinee 2pm (last Saturday only).
Bookings: Griffin Booking Line 02 8002 4772 or online at www.griffintheatre.com.au
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level