The Credeaux Canvas – Sure Foot Productions does Keith Bunin. (theatre review)

In an interview for AIMbitious TV, Keith Bunin talks about solving the “problem” of writing and also asserts that deep engagement with this process is the role of art in general. For Bunin, his writing is involved with the problems we face and the pain we cause when we are trying to love each other. His basic analyses of humanity comes from these central issues and his questions and problems involved in the writing process arise from his efforts to reveal these in a way that has us lead the Socratic ideal of the life examined.

Bunin started out writing plays, but when his obvious talent was noticed, he moved on to write for the television series In Treatment and form there moved into film. He wrote the screenplay for the forthcoming horror flick Horns, an adaptation from a novel by Joe Hill, directed by Alexandre Aja and staring Daniel Radcliff. The film is roughly about a young man accused of murdering his girlfriend, but when he grows horns, he is able to force people to tell the truth. He uses this power to find out who killed his girlfriend. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, so lesser hands may have been daunted by having to convert Hill’s book to a screenplay.  Bunin, however has a disarming confidence that gives one the sense he can get any job done. And much of this, comes from his success as a play write, and from plays like the Credeaux Canvas.

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So it is timely that Sure Foot Productions raise the funds and give us a performance of the Credeaux Canvas, written by Keith Bunin before he was adapting Joe Hill. This performance is currently on at the Tap Gallery here in Sydney from 20th March 2013 to 6th April 2013.

The Credeaux Canvas is a complex little piece of theater, following along Bunin’s lines that it is the pain and the problems we cause when we try to do good that are more interesting than the hurt we cause when we try to do others wrong. It’s beautifully written, Bunin handles a multilayered subject with great skill. Bunin’s writing is easy to follow and accessible, so the complex subject matter opens itself in a crescendo that doesn’t just climax with an earth shattering moment, but remains with you, revealing itself more and more as you find your thoughts wandering back to the subject matter.

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The Credeaux Canvas is largely the study of three people whose lives intersect around an attempt to scam an older art collector out of money by claiming they have a “Credeaux” – a fictitious great master who comes to prominence in the art world through the course of the play. The three young people in varying degrees, decide they can plagiarize the little known master and swindle the lady out of some cash by telling her they have stumbled upon one of the forgotten originals. The “little old lady” turns out to be no fool, but every bit as clever and complex as the other characters, and it is through her insightful and deep analysis of the painting that the major themes of Bunin’s work come forth.

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Winstone (Alex Shore), an entirely introverted but very talented painter, paints Amelia (Kitty Hopwood), a waitress who wants to be a singer, at the request of Jamie (Richard Cornally) who is Amelia’s lover and Winstone’s flat mate. It is the act of painting that will unmask Amelia and Winstone and Jamie, revealing their inner self reflected in the exposure of the other three. Interpretation of the final work will come in the form of Tess Anderson Rose (Jennie Dibley), a woman who reveals what each thought they were successfully hiding. Part of the metaphor of revelation is large sections of nudity Bunin writes into the play. In a very small space like the Tap Gallery, where the play is being performed centimeters from the first row, something that might occur as a bit of a gimmick or a conceit is used to great effect.  The audience is so close to the naked actors an immediate involvement occurs that results in the eventual dismissal of the nakedness of the cast. These characters are so well written, so well performed and so interesting that even the exposure an audience member may feel falls away.

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Byron Kay’s direction is deft and minimal, making best use of the small intimate space at The Tap.  The space may be small, but for a piece of deeply intimate theater, it is perfect.  Kay keeps everything light and subtle, ensuring nothing reflects away from the importance of the characters.

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Everyone does a wonderful job here, but a special nod must go to Richard Cornally whose performance as Jamie steals the show. His opening scene where he enthuses over plans to make his friends rich in the wake of his fathers leaving him out of his will is a performance that broke my heart.  It does seem unfair to single anyone out, when the performances are so good, but there is a tragi-comic aspect to Cornally’s Jamie, so emblematic of all the other characters and their internal battles, that he was impossible to forget, even when off stage.

This great play is on at The Tap Gallery until April 6.  Grab your tickets here.

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