FRANK WOODLEY: POSSESSED

When Luscious and I were in Adelaide recently, we had the fabulous opportunity to get out and catch some theatre, something we’d been unable to do for far too long. Frank Woodley’s new solo show Possessed was on, and I was keen, but Lyn professed to being not a great fan of Lano & Woodley, so we passed. Instead, we bought tickets to a show that was cancelled ten minutes before we were due to take our seats when a crew member electrocuted themselves and blew out every fuse in the hotel where the show was being staged. So it goes.

Tuesday night, thanks to the miracles of teen babysitter and free tickets from my work’s social club, we got a second chance. And this time, we went.

Woodley’s always been a fantastic performer, combining an amazing physical elasticity with a talent for drawing pathos and sympathy from an audience with subtle changes in stance. And yet, and yet….

Possessed is the story of Louie, a lonely borderline agarophobe who spends his days collecting sailing ship memorabilia and building model ships to hang around his tiny basement apartment. When he is possessed by the ghost of Phoebe O’Leary, an Irish girl who drowned whilst stowing away on the ship whose model he is currently building, it leads them both to question their relationship, their choices, and whether to stay locked up within their own personal purgatories or take the chance on actions that may liberate or damn them.

And much like the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy, what could (should?) have been a startlingly good example of one type of story (in the case of the movie, a black comedy. In the case of the play, a heartbreaking and ultimately sweet and hopeful love story) is cut off at the knees by the need to insert ‘signature’ aspects of the main performers style of comedy. Put more bluntly, there was far too much falling down stairs and not enough character in this one-person tour de force for it to be successful.

Don’t get me wrong: Woodley still is, and will remain for some time, a masterful physical performer. But he’s not so capable of character acting that I ever quite believed in his ability to transform from male to female mannerisms. His turns as Phoebe feel like just that: comic turns, a chance to mince and flap in a burlesque manner, rather than the assumption of a true alter ego. And, ultimately, the story of Phoebe’s fate, and the journey she must take, are so well written and genuinely sad that they outweigh the bulk of the performace: Woodley’s stock-in-trade physical buffoonery as the cross-lobed Louie is at odds with the tragedy that unfolds behind him. The end result is neither wholly one thing or another, and left me wondering what the play could have been if performed by a genuine character actor, played straight, or at least, with a greater balance between the sadness and a gentler form of melancholy humour.

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