Catherine At Avignon

Rebecca Varidel
14th Aug 2023

Catherine at Avignon by living Sydney playwright Paul Gilchrist is currently performing on Meraki Mainstage Darlinghurst in a short season, so be quick to see this.

The work of Paul Gilchrist is always a rich woven tapestry, and this play is no exception. Again he casts a wide net to draw on philosophical knowledge and invoke debate, and present human observations that make his work much broader and deeper than the storyline, though the play can indeed be enjoyed for just that.

In Catherine at Avignon Paul Gilchrist provides an historical setting of the early 14th century, and while fictional this play does draw inspiration from historical characters.

"Though based on historical events, this play doesn’t purport to be historical truth. Several of the characters are amalgams of various people I have found in the records. Catherine, Gregory and Raymond were real people, but I will not pretend that my dramatic creations are accurate portrayals" explains the playwright, as his words will give a clearer picture than mine.

"I was drawn to Catherine’s story because she was unafraid to challenge authority. In the telling she became a model for anyone who wants to leave the world a better place but is unsure of the means, and has difficulty finding the confidence. Our actions begin in our thoughts. A society bombarded by advertising slogans such as 'Just do it' is tempted to view thought and action as opposites. But in a healthy, sustainable life they are intertwined. And so the play explores not just how authority is challenged from the outside, but also how it is created on the inside - through storytelling and playacting, and through truth claims and judgement."

"This play was the first time I had written about a character not purely fictional. It was and continues to be an altogether different experience. This woman we conjure once walked the earth. She laughed and wept, and knew all the aching complexity of life. And now a revelation that will make me appear a complete eccentric. I have felt her presence. Remember theatre practitioners work ridiculously long hours, and often don’t get enough sleep. But as I have watched an actor, or painted a prop, or spoken to the designer, I have felt her. She does not judge. She entreats. Live life fully."

And as in these words of inspiration, so will his thinking-persons' play and his central character inspire. Surrounded by the common corruptions of humanity, insecurity, fear, greed, lust and more, we witness in the others.

Directed by the playwright, with Daniela Giorgio as producer (together the cofounders of subtlenuance), even the casting, with Pope + right hand man his Cardinal also dual-cast as theatrical Players, making a poignant statement in itself.

Richard Cotter as both Pope and Player, commands Shakespearean style attention, even in the 50 seat theatre. Cotter is convincing in both his Papal presence and human weaknesses, of which there are many. In a different form of theatre, I'd like to boo Shaw Cameron as the villains, which certainly both his roles are, in well executed debauchery. There is a meaness to his eyes, a sharpness to his voice, a blade to his actions.

Indeed every actor is a match for purpose. Romney Hamilton lives jaded cynicism as Marguerite. Rosie Meader as Eloise arcs out of innocence in pronounced portrayal. John Michel Narres is brimming with pious loyalty as Raymond.

Outstanding in the pivotal place, Shawnee Jones delivers as much in silent composure when she isn't speaking as when she does. Was she a Saint? Jones has the gift and talent to make us believe so.

The costumes, set, lighting, sound all fit together in perfect tailoring for this stage, this theatre. The only distraction from the well rounded whole was band noise from below which sadly seemed to almost synch to the two halves of the play, and even stop during interval. Nonetheless in supporting independent local theatre, if you can overlook this, Catherine at Avignon gives the best that Sydney theatre has to offer.