David Hare's play My Zinc Bed is another vehicle for Hare to meditate (once again) on the question of contemporary society as a bleak place where so many individuals are floundering. He positions alcohol as a middle-class crutch and he challenges the 12 Step AA method of rehabilitation as a viable program for recovery to a normal state of functioning.
In this play Hare suggests that alcoholism is an addiction - no better or worse than any other addiction, religion, ashram programs or any other ideologies that individuals rely on for social reinforcement.
My Zinc Bed explores these ideas and beliefs through three characters Victor Quinn (Sean Taylor), his wife Elsa Quinn (Danielle Carter) and a young poet Paul Peplow (Sam O'Sullivan).
The play is set in the drawing room of multi millionaire Victor's home. He has invited poet Paul for drinks to discuss Paul's recent engagement as a corporate copywriter for Victor's thriving business. It is in this environment that we witness the personalities of the two men: Victor - once a heavy drinker and now addictive through the adrenalin of big business, the tycoon - vigorous, egotistical, in control - sending out enough pheromones and testosterone to have us believe he would never be challenged.
As we watch Victor - the hunk - theatrically mix and pour cocktails from a drinks trolley and seductively elongate this process in front of poet Paul - who is low in self esteem, shy, defenceless and currently midway through an alcohol detox program at AA - we are left wondering how Victor cold be so insensitive. Or is his own supercharged behaviour simply deflecting his self-doubt and the pain of his own uncertainty?
We meet Victor's wife Elsa when Victor is conveniently off-stage and we observe an instant physical attraction between her and poet Paul. Elsa waists no time in sharing with Paul her story of social struggle and her decline into alcohol and drug addiction. She was literally scraped up of the floor of a bar by Victor "her rescuer".
Elsa and Paul engage in a negative discussion about AA and Paul declares "anger makes me drink" and - he cries as Elsa rescues him - falling into his arms in a passionate embrace.
Is Elsa a woman in a golden cage - beholden to her rescuer - with all of its concomitant layers - entrapment, a loveless marriage, lonely and friendless? And the inevitable flip side "It's only because of Victor that I exist".
Addiction, control, compulsion. Paul says,” I’d like a drink" and "get back on the taste".
"Why does addiction have such allure? I can't write to order".
The cast are a strong group of actors and their ensemble work presents the complexity of Hare's ideas with skill.
Why is the play's title 'My Zinc Bed'? There is a cursory reference to Joseph Conrad.
We can look forward to further challenges like this play from the director - Mark KIlmurry - as he firmly holds the reigns at the Ensemble Theatre.
My Zinc Bed is on now until Sunday November 22 at Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli.