The pièce de résistance of Seminar is the talented performers, who bring great energy to a dialogue-heavy script and help the audience to navigate the wordier segments with a little more pizzazz. Natalie Yatsina approaches the complex Kate perfectly, who internalises Leonard’s harsh criticisms and goes on a quest for praise; there’s a wondrous balance of uptight intellectual, insecure student, and fierce debater. Jason Tolley as the wise old sage Leonard is the character we love to hate. Tolley balances the asshole and the teacher modes of Leonard well, and it’s an achievement to make such a disgusting character tolerable, though his American accent is the most inconsistent. Shivneel Singh gives Martin an ignorant naivety that makes his foot-in-mouth a little more endearing than enraging, though oftentimes I find the portrayal of Martin overly moody; often, his expression feels too melodramatic to fit in with the rest of the play’s world, such as his chastising of Douglas’ mispronunciation and poncy affectations. Jacob Masters brings the right level of pretension to Douglas, always held in high regard and far too easily torn down by the others; the way Masters slumps and folds into his chair when he receives some honest feedback from Leonard indicative of his sheltered, sparsely told ‘no’ upbringing. Annica Lewis is equal parts delicate and ferocious with the sexually-driven Izzy; she traces the stage, like a panther ready to pounce, always scouting for her way into the conversation or attention.
All of the characters exhibit this sometimes subtle but mostly blatant misogyny and I’m unsure whether the play seeks to inspect and critique a male-dominated gaze of authorship and fiction or the characters are simply misogynistic. The most jarring examples are Leonard’s treatment of feminism and his attitude when he scores with a feminist, remarking something akin to them being freaks in the bedroom, when Kate takes nearly every opportunity to cut Izzy down, and with Izzy and Kate becoming little more than objects of sexual desire by the show’s conclusion, to help facilitate the men achieving their objectives. It feels like these moments are meant to be indicative of the characters desperately grasp for what they want no matter the cost, but most of the time, we’re rolling our eyes. If the mood of these moments is meant to be comedic, these ‘jokes’ aren’t landing. If it’s showing the grey morality of the characters, there needs to be more variance in the delivery.
At about one hundred minutes, Seminar keeps us mostly engaged, thanks to each performer bringing a flavourful spice to the stage; and the show is most sapid when the characters themselves are the focus over the writing. But the seminars are a different story. During these segments, the stage doesn’t even simmer, and with nothing stewing, it’s difficult for the audience to jump back onboard when outbursts and arguments boil over again. When Douglas’ story is on this week’s agenda, everyone returns to a seat (bar Martin, who casually leans against a cabinet) ready to critique his work. The scene is dialogue-heavy like the other seminar bits of the show, but there’s little excitement from anyone from this scene, and most of it is all one-note. There are moments of ire and rage between Martin and Leonard, or Martin and Douglas, or Martin and Izzy, but because the rest of the scene is pretty bland, we snap to these instead of build to them, which has me confused.
Seminar is still on my mind after seeing its opening night performance. There are things the show does exceptionally well, like the talented performances, and things with which the show struggles. If they can iron out some of the pacing woes between opening and closing, Seminar will only become stronger, snappier, and perhaps the questions I have about the characters’ misogyny will bear answers.
Seminar is currently on at the Hannah Playhouse until Saturday 7 April. You can book tickets or find out more at their website.