Words: Dave Mann
Photography: Amanda Horsfield
A minimal set with two diametric characters on a fast track to mid-life mediocrity. They talk about the sort of things that two friends usually do: Work, love lives, the quality of their lunch-break coffee. You’ve seen something similar before, right? Not like this.
By looking at the insidious nature of performed reality with all of its roles, trappings, and very real dangers, Kelsey Stewart’s Character Door provides a thrilling take on the blurring boundaries between life and art. The disdainful cynic, Michael (played by James Sulter) leads a life of disappointment, constantly chasing the dream of becoming a successful playwright, while Gerrie, the average Joe from Brakpan (played by Chad Emslie) has a normal job, a loving wife, and hopes of being a father.
The two characters go about their daily routine, drawing you in as they go along, until Gerrie begins to forget his lines, and their performance spectacularly unravels, taking with it, their lives. So rarely do you see such compelling writing translated into a convincing performance without losing any of its subtleties. Sulter and Emslie take the audience right on stage with them, through the bewilderment and anguish that comes with being so violently thrown in and out of character.
The character of Michael in particular seems to speak to the tumultuous relationship a writer has with their writing – the charge of writing spaces and characters into existence and taking responsibility for them. The play asks, among other questions, what happens when no one reads your writing? When there’s no audience around to watch you perform?
Leaving the show, I couldn’t help but think of its similarities with Tara Notcutt’s career launching, two-man play, ‘Miskien’. A simple set with a complex, but engaging script, well-developed, accessible characters, and a storyline that rises to a climactic ending, all undercut with brilliantly timed humour, and a sly stab of sadness. Considering this is only Stewart’s first production at the National Arts Festival, I’d say she has a hell of a career ahead of her.