Poor Sandra, she's stuck in a rut. Living in the same house since the day she was born and cast as nursemaid to her brother Norman who's fortysomething going on six. Her only respite is through the music of Ol' Blue eyes, whose portraits gaze down at her from every wall of the claustrophobic shrine-come-lounge. So begins Bernard Kops' Playing Sinatra, a slight and unsatisfying parable about the games people mistake for relationships.
The roles of the siblings are confused to say the least, so much so that the audience spend the first ten minutes trying to decipher them. This is because Norman is 'special', something we ascertain from the crude hints Kops drops from the outset. From the plastic cutlery to the gift of a stuffed owl which he adores, Sandra's brother behaves in true Norman Bates fashion. And Sandra is everyone to him - mother, lover and friend. They both exist within a bubble playing their Sinatra quiz and terrified of the outside world.
But when a handsome stranger appears on the scene with his philosophical ideals and copy of the 'I Ching', the threat of change forces the bizarre duo to reassess their situation.
The main problem for the actors is that these characters, who are meant to be childlike and cut-off, suddenly deliver the most self-knowing outpourings, which are unquestionably the authorial voice and so impossible to 'own'.
As a man on the verge, Norman should be unpredictable and edgy, but David McAlister doesn't achieve the pendulum swings of childishness or aggression necessary to convince. Jennie Stoller's Sandra is all doe eyes, but we never believe she's afraid of her brother. As for Miles Richardson (as the smooth talking Philip De Groot), he does well to change the dynamic momentarily, but the audience are in no way taken in by him as the siblings are.
The piece is over-written and the characters unclear. Granted, the pretext sounds entertaining enough, with Kops borrowing from Harold Pinter (in that an intruder disturbs the strange equilibrium) and Philip Ridley (in the dark isolated world), but most vitally, it lacks what both the aforementioned playwrights do so well, and what makes their plays memorable; tension.
David Salter's direction does nothing to compensate for the flaws in the writing. The moments of action are dealt with in a heavy-handed way and enough distinction is never made between Norman's fantasy world and reality. In short, the writing, acting and direction all fall wide of the mark here.
- Hannah Kennedy