At times, with theatre, you can tell that a certain duo is going to produce a great play. With just a brief glance over a poster or flyer, you can see that the names on it are a stamp of quality. With The Man That Lovelock Couldn’t Beat, the names Dean Parker and Conrad Newport offer a promise of quality that is not at all misleading.
The Man That Lovelock Couldn’t Beat is something of an historical fable. The tale, narrated by an earthy researcher (Susan Curnow) in a scenario something like a lecture, falls somewhere between fictitious and factual, mixing the true story of Jack Lovelock’s world-record breaking mile at the Berlin Olympics in with his relationship to a fictitious arch-enemy, Tom Morehu. The show begins at school when the boys are about 13. Lovelock (Michael Whalley), every bit the promising young scholar and athlete, meets his match when he races against, and looses to, Tom Morehu (Jamie McCaskill). From there, Lovelock’s successes better Morehu’s in almost every aspect of life – except that, whenever the two race together (which is only two or three times), Morehu always wins.
Parker’s script is a quality work, typical of what we would expect from a writer with so many successes under his belt (the likes of which include Baghdad, Baby and The Hollow Men). His accessible and very watchable style is aided by Conrad Newport’s spirited direction, which manages to keep the show alive right to the last. I am not often convinced by the presence of a narrator, especially in a medium such as theatre where it seems more prudent to show the action rather than to describe it. However in this case I felt that her detachment from the action worked quite well, as she was involved with the action emotionally – the people she was discussing meant something to her on a deeply personal level, which I felt justified the use of narration.
I was consistently impressed by the quality of Gillie Coxill’s costuming in this production. In fact, I was delighted. Aided by Sarah Muir, Becky Campbell and Vicky Kothroulas, there was something about the look of the costumes which I found quite striking. Lovelock’s preppy white outfits and glossy blonde wig really brought out his character, while the narrator was the spitting image of the furrowed intellectual.
Performance-wise, it should be said that the entire cast do very well. My personal favourite was Bruce Phillips, who played several roles throughout the show. It’s always a pleasure to watch an experienced performer who knows what they are doing and who is clearly very skilled at their job. Dena Kennedy also supplies an excellent performance.
Where The Man That Lovelock Couldn’t Beat really shines is in the fact that it is a new New Zealand work, by New Zealanders and for New Zealanders. This is a great play and is well worth seeing.
The Man That Lovelock Couldn’t Beat
Written by Dean Parker
Directed by Conrad Newport
April 5 – May 3