Courtney Rose Brown
Daniel William’s set and costume design depicts Michael and Cherie’s world of wealth. The lounge of their home drips with opulence; there is an open plan area with marble floors, art covering each wall and a bare stone wall upstage. William’s costumes emphasise the differences between the characters in the space. The expensive material overwhelms Brian and Karen - the ‘hired help’ - who wear practical clothes. Brian is dressed in tradieboots, stained shorts and basic t-shirts, and Karen wears loose, dull coloured clothing.
Director Conrad Newport lets the play simmer, with leisurely pacing, until tension finally boils over in the second half. Each character interaction is paced slowly, allowing the audience an excess of time to digest each conversation. Newport takes extra care setting up key moments, such as a placement of a bag, that comes back with startling intensity at the end. But the emphasis causes scenes to drag and alters the natural rhythm of the text. In addition, transitions take way too long. For example, characters make small adjustments to the set during their entrances and departures from scenes to show the passing of time. Although these transitions are layered with music, overlapping them would preserve the flow of action and energy of the performances.
Central offers a view into a world I would never be allowed to see. It is fascinating identifying with the lower class characters while feeling like I am supposed to identify with Michael and Cherie. This creates a feeling of isolation as I found myself unable to connect to them, even with Cherie’s moment of vulnerability at the end. This is also influenced by the audience’s responses as they lean into the punchlines of those being less educated appearing more ‘simple’ (choosing Speights over hundred dollar bottles of wine) in comparison to a lifestyle of extravagance and ease in stability. My favourite example occurs as Karen takes a break from cleaning to chat, before running off to her third job. Cherie says that she misses working and congratulates Karen on her work, oblivious to the luxury of having a choice.
The characters talk to each other as if they are equals, with unexpected honesty at times, even though it is clear they are not the same status at all. These interactions add a lot of humour as their worlds clash, and act as a powerful reminder of the difference in the lives they lead. For example, Michael makes up a story to impress Brian, but Brian makes contributions that improve the story beyond Michael’s idea. Michael responds through manipulation, which goes over Brian’s head, as Michael stores those ideas in his back pocket. It is a frustrating example of how unaware the richer characters are of the effects of their actions, which is a reflection on the show and reality. Due to their status and wealth, small adjustments to their lives erase contributions of and remove opportunities for others.
Alex Greig’s performance as Brian cements his standing as a diverse performer. His voice low and thick with a New Zealand ‘farmer’ accent. His intelligence is glossed over with a limited ‘full of Kiwi phrases’ vernacular. Brian fascinates me with his general knowledge and spurts of information of history which he reveals in throwaway comments, in comparison to Michael who flaunts his education and status within business.
Central is a beautifully crafted piece that sits comfortably with the older members of the audience. However, I longed for some more liveliness in the production, shown through a faster pace and a more aggressive look into politics. Perhaps if Michael and Cherie’s stakes were higher in what they emotionally invested in, so that a more human side was revealed, rather than a figure of wealth, there would have been more to navigate.