Phillip Parsons Young Playwright Award winner Matthew Whittet had one main question in mind writing Old Man: how do you become a father if you never had one? The first of the play’s two-parts is a series of monologues. The characters are confused, distressed, and emotionally adrift – a husband and wife (Daniel and Sam) each thinking the other has left them; their children Charlotte and Henry, trying to put the pieces together; Daniel’s mother, to whom he turns in distress. The second part arrives abruptly, fourth wall restored, in a domestic scene of such normalcy that we are left wondering if the emotional quagmire of the first part happened at all, and if it did, what it meant. There are some lovely family scenes played out over the next 30 minutes; its here that Old Man shines.
The performances are solid, holding a relatively loose piece of work together. Leon Ford’s Daniel is likeable and sympathetic despite being ineffectual in his quest to become the man he had always hoped to be in his father’s absence. Alison Bell is warm and natural as Sam, delivering some of the plays’ sweetest and funniest moments in her recounting of Sam and Daniel’s first encounter 17 years earlier. The children (Madeline Benson as Charlotte and Tom Usher as Harry) also shone, capturing perfectly the tensions that play out between a girl on the cusp of her teenage years and her pesky little brother.
There’s no denying that Old Man has some poignant and memorable moments, most of which are delivered through the strength of the performances. In the long run, however, it fails to hit its mark. The two parts are disjointed, the eventual resolution equating to little more than ‘and then he woke up’; the start of every scene is marked by a loud beep, giving the entire play the feel of a theatre-sports beep-test; and strange disjointed musical bursts distract. The most disappointing thing, however, is the play’s failure to really deliver on its set-up – things happen, sure, but at the end of the day they don’t mean much, and the characters all end up pretty much as they begun.
Until Jul 1, Belvoir St Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills, $32-42, 9699 3444, belvoir.com.au