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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Haunting of Daniel Gartrell

The impressive mirroring of the two main characters is done subtly in this play - only one of them gets naked.
By Hilary Simmons
August 08, 2011
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By Hilary Simmons
August 08, 2011
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From the poster, you’d assume The Haunting of Daniel Gartrell is a one-man meditation on the perils of drinking solo and shirtless after Mardi Gras. In reality, the lights go up on a gleefully naked Daniel Gartrell (Mark Sheridan) sitting in a vinyl lounge chair. He is playing the famous bush poet of the title, a reclusive but remarkable wordsmith who is – in Gartrell’s hands – alternately whimsical and venomous.

The writer, Reg Cribb, is a NIDA graduate who co-wrote the Bran Nue Dae screenplay. He is arguably best known for his feature film adaptation, Last Train To Freo, which was nominated for an AFI award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and went on to win the 2005 WA Premier’s Script award.

It seems fitting that Cribb is now dealing with the poetic pretensions of the deeply disturbed Daniel Gartrell given that his play Last Cab to Darwin won the 2003 Patrick White Playwright’s Award, a prize one presumably has to be as stubborn-minded as Patrick White himself to win.

At the Old Fitzroy Theatre, the width of the stage is the width of the seating, and the set design is used to great effect to pull you into the characters’ past. A towering pile of moldering books and collapsing chairs cover the stage, signaling Daniel Gartrell's decrepit mental and physical state. Craig Castevich (Joshua Morton), an ambitious actor who is preparing to play the haunted hermit in a forthcoming biopic, arrives with industrious intent to gain intimate insights into the man's poetry, and is clearly immediately out of his depth. Gartrell’s stormy bush poetry stems from disappointment and heartbreak, and once Castevich starts dredging up dissolving details, it's uncertain whether he'll deal well with his discoveries.

Despite the poetic intensity of the script, there is a lot of humour to be found in this play, particularly in the daughter who provides psychologically creepy comic relief. The impressive mirroring of the two men’s characters is done subtly - after all, only one of them gets naked.

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