Lennox Theatre, March 17


Photo: Noni Carroll.

The gap between intent and outcome is the hardest artistic chasm to bridge. The second hardest is to detach the work of art from the causal impetus, so it becomes self-contained, rather than being reliant on the audience’s sympathy for the artist’s peeves du jour.

Julian Larnach’s Flight Paths (having its world premiere presented by National Theatre of Parramatta) has two sets of problems: one of the playwright’s own making and one courtesy of the director and actors. The former results from Larnach’s commendable desire to leave the world a better place than he found it. In his program note he partially defines his play as “interrogating humanity’s need to help even when we don’t know how”. Yet too often we hear his voice doing this “interrogating”, not those of his characters.

Larnach has two protagonists and two plots, ultimately tied to together with an affecting twist. One concerns Emily (Airlie Dodds) arriving in Kenya as a well-meaning but naive aid volunteer, and the other has other Luisa (Ebony Vagulans) finding her feet as a new arrival at Oxford University.

Larnach can write engaging, witty dialogue, and had this play been tested in a hotter furnace perhaps the more overtly didactic elements might have been burnt off the edges, allowing us to uncover some of his intent for ourselves, instead of feeling vaguely like geese being force-fed moral fat.

Director Anthea Williams and her cast of six, meanwhile, serve the play inconsistently. Too much of the wit in Larnach’s text is allowed to sink in a swamp of earnestness with barely an air-bubble to mark the spot, and much of the acting conveys conviction of ideas as opposed to dredging up a deeper conviction in the characters by whom those ideas are espoused. The two who best transcend this issue are Monica Kumar as Anika (Luisa’s Oxford “buddy”) and Brandon McClelland as Tom (an Oxford activist), although the truth of Richie Morris’s portrayal of the frustrated aid recipient Adhama increases as the play progresses.

Larnach raises many questions, including philanthropy’s potential to salve the conscience rather than achieve outcomes. What’s missing is a compelling night in a theatre. That said, lighting designer Verity Hampson’s realisation of a murmuration of starlings at the end is, as the text specifies, “magnificent”.