For the past few years, I have been trawling through my neighbourhood’s familiar little second-hand Grub Street Bookshop, (scented lovingly by old books,) run by Michael Healy. He writes novels, yet to be published, and in the recent past, has been writing plays. I went along with curiosity to see his new play, Flight (Nicole Peters and Eagles’ Nest Theatre Company production,) showing at La Mama Courthouse.
Built upon from personal experiences, but by no means autobiographical, Healy delivers the final chapter of the Green Wolf trilogy with Flight, which sees its environmental activist hero Tilman Hessel exasperated with life as it stands, taking us on a long deliberating journey, throughout which he scrutinizes a yearning to, as the title might suggest, take flight.
The ‘wolf’ provides allegorical themes that address each of the three parts. The first instalment arrived in 2007, introducing the Green Wolf at an opportuned time where the probability of a nuclear Australia was being hotly contested against. The second, Outlaw, explores Hessel’s predicatments as he steadfastly soldiers on with his righteous yet misunderstood efforts.
As with the natural progression, our hero has now served his duties and seeks to be reacquainted with an inner peace. He is presented in the beginning to be dismissive of his former activist spirit and fully formed celebrity status. A series of events follow, flashing through one trifle inconvenience after another and reiterated by the people around him. An incident of gallstones invokes him to remove himself from the bustle of Berlin, and, wielding only his fetching smile and a pair of curiously chosen bicycle shorts, he cycles through Germany’s countryside to interact with their impassioned but content folk. Hessel’s ultimate decision *spoiler alert* to abscond, in spite of the people around him, finds closure in this sentimental trilogy. The end hardly comes as a surprise.
Despite my concerns that its predictability may render the play too simple, Healy’s writing of Hessel’s emotional journey sometimes gleams with tender knowingness. I will speculate that this third chapter is hugely more nuanced, and demands the discerning relativity of a more mature viewer. Nonetheless, this production could do with a dramaturg to tease out the cruxces of the script so as to appeal to a broader audience. Skye Staude’s directional debut is competent yet uninspired, and coasted the script a bit too safely.
The set design by Duncan Inglis provides an appropriate backdrop for the many scenes but seems overstocked as an effort to compensate for a lack of creativity.
Geraint Hill’s portrayal of Tilman Hessel, though overly boyish and unavoidably youthful, is charming and at times compelling in his role. Barbara, played with acute understanding by VCA graduate Ranae Shadler, is the shunned groupie volunteer who slowly reveals herself, through dramatic irony, as one who truly understands him despite the concerns of his well-meaning friends, played by Zoran Babic and Clare Callow, and his wife (Johanne Fossheim,) with whom he now exchanges mere pleasantries.
Unlike the character of Hessel, I think Healy has yet to make his mark on the Melbourne stage. I will, nonetheless, be eager to check out the stream of his future plays as sure as I shall continue to buy second-hand books from him.
Flight will be playing at La Mama Courthouse until the 18th December.