"Flight", currently showing at Melbourne's beautiful La Mama Courthouse Theatre in Carlton, is a play about what happens when all your dreams come true. Local playwright Michael Healy presents us with the idea that what makes us happy is not necessarily what we may initially think. Despite this lovely premise and a good first stab at directing from Skye Staude, "Flight" fails to even get off the ground.
Courtesy of La Mama
Set in Berlin, the play focuses on Tilman Hessel - the so-called "Great Green Warrior" - a much-admired, highly successful environmentalist who is deeply unsatisfied with his life, despite its apparent perfection. From the opening scene, Tilman is portrayed by Geraint Hill as a down-trodden, self-pitying grump, whose down-trodden, self-pitying grumpiness only changes when he follows his heart and takes flight from his ostensibly boring, middle class life.
We follow him on his journey away from the bustling city, as he cycles through the German countryside in an attempt to find what it is he is looking for. Along the way, he meets some very fun and quirky characters, such as the fabulously over-sharing Smart Old Woman (Clare Callow) and the warm-hearted Aussie Backpacker (Colin Craig), who, unknowingly, teach Tilman about the simple joys of life. Indeed, the most memorable and moving moment of the play is the scene between Tilman and the Backpacker, where Craig's effortless acting draws us in and warms our hearts. This is a welcome relief from a somewhat dragged-out first half, where opening night nerves are evident from a few of the actors.
What makes "Flight" problematic is that its hero is unlikeable. In order to truly identify with Tilman's struggle, the play depends on the audience having some level of sympathy with him. Unfortunately, Hill plays Tilman as if stuck in a mood and his one-note performance and constant whining become irritating. It is therefore equally difficult to understand why on earth his doting wife Dagmar (Johanne Fossheim) and his ridiculously supportive friends Andreas (Zoran Babic) and Uli (Clare Callow) put up with being so poorly treated by him for so long. Indeed, his doormat-of-a-wife even begs him to see her as "compensation" for having to put up with such a (supposedly) miserable existence.
The dénouement finally comes when, predictably, Tilman ends up "enjoying nature, rather than defending it" - an echo from an earlier scene. But the message which comes across is that it is acceptable to treat your loved ones terribly, wallow in self-pity and selfishly avoid facing reality by simply escaping without telling anyone you are doing so, because at least you will have found your own true happiness. As such, I found it hard to walk away feeling inspired or enlightened by my trip to the theatre.
I saw Flight, but I don't agree with this author conclusions that it's primary message was that it is OK to be rude to your loved ones and then just escape your life with no regard for anyone or anything. I thought it was trying to bring to light some of the difficulties modern society creates within the private lives of devoted individuals with a social conscience. Such people do just give up and escape into selfishness sometimes. So I don't know why you would expect a happy ending.
Hi Mehra. Thanks for taking the time out to add your opinion. Glad my review has sparked some healthy debate! Fair comment there. I'd just like to point out that I definitely did not expect a happy ending and yes, I think it was *trying* to point out the difficulties you outline and was *trying* to be a tragedy, however it did not work as a tragedy for me as I did not sympathise in any way with the protagonist and therefore, that's why I had the reading which I did of the ending. Happy debating! :)