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THEATRE: 29 APRIL 2015

By SANDRA BOWDEN

Five Properties of Chainmale, by Nicholas Hope | Directed by Nicholas Hope

Griffin Independent & Arts Radar | SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst, Sydney | Until 9 May

Five Properties of Chainmale, as a title, isn’t a great start for this latest Griffin production. Yes, one could link, so to speak, the metaphor of armour to writer/director Nicholas Hope’s description of the play: “… five variations on the theme of contemporary masculinity with not a bromance in sight. It is an excavation of the male mind across generations and time zones.”

In this case, the excavation yields little. Even if one put enough effort into breaking through the armour, what lies underneath is hardly revelatory.

Alan Lovell, Dominic McDonald, Jeremy Waters and Briony Williams give their all in the 70 minutes it takes to explore five vignettes. Punctuated by a boxing-match-type bell, Siege, Defence, Concealment, Flexibility and Independence take the audience from an awkward sexual encounter in London, via Oslo — for no reason that I could ascertain other than Hope has some Norwegian connections — to Australia.

While the stories touch on the largely unquestioned acceptance of male egotism — more specifically, narcissistic personality disorder as a type of masculine-default setting — there is little opportunity to establish character, time, place or enough connection to invest in.

However, this is also probably a blessing, as the frequent swapping of characters within scenes, narratives and dialogue became more its own study in how far a concept can drift from the original intention.

Williams gets the best out of this male-dominated production, which was interesting as her roles were peripheral to the action.

A clunky jumble of sharp, mirrored set pieces with random words stencilled on them hint at the designers’ (Tom Rivard and Tom Bannerman) confusion as well. Awkward to move around and shift, at times parts seemed ready to topple or cause an injury.

In the program notes Hope speaks of “self-justified, self-centred, often cowardly but sometimes brazen small acts of evil and complicity”, accruing “to a level that demands some kind of audit and a little self-ironic humour”. Certainly there were some humourous moments, and a worthy intent, but this audit probably needed an independent body to step in and sort through the excavation site.