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Independent Theatre bring ROSS to life in every possible way
The 1960 play Ross by British playwright Terrence Rattigan comes alive in Independent Theatre's adaptation of ROSS - The Lives of Lawrence of Arabia at The Adelaide Festival Centre. The story behind this classic text is a complex one, as it delves into notions of the psyche and our own personal battles that exist behind our facades. The play is based on the life of T.E Lawrence, who was a British military officer who took part in the Great Arab Revolt and later wrote the memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence joined the revolt against the Turks as a political liaison officer, leading a guerilla campaign. After a major victory at Aqaba, now known as Jordan, Lawrence and his forces captured Jerusalem. The initial scenes bring us into the present in 1922 at the Royal Air Force, where Lawrence's real identity is masked by his alter-ego 'Ross', soon discovered by one man who attempts to blackmail him.
Moving forward, we see another side to Ross who seems incredibly vulnerable and damaged, signifying that he is experiencing something horrific. As Ross goes to sleep, he shivers and whimpers, delving into a dream state that flashes back to mid 1916, in which his true persona as Lawrence unravels. Taking place in the Arabian desert, Lawrence is given an unofficial assignment as a liaison officer to the forces of the Arab Revolt under Prince Feisal. He feels as though he can achieve anything, and soon enough gains more power and respect. As the story unfolds, we see Lawrence transform, adopting traits that reflect his veiled desires and realities. Meanwhile, he is hunted by Turkish forces, who eventually capture and torture him, as they perceive him as too extraordinary an enemy to simply kill. From this point on, we are confronted by a soul that slowly becomes tormented and haunted, his isolation from the real world only evolving.
We later learn that Lawrence executes one of his most loyal servants - Hamed, which adds another dimension to the menacing and almost sinister undertones of the character who is perceived as a 'hero'. With this, Lawrence slowly crumbles as his actions begin to eat away at him.
He is labelled as a 'callous, soulless, sadistic little brute' - a possible self-reflection that once again reiterates this notion of the psyche and the ways in which we torment ourselves with our own destructive thoughts. As the play comes to a close the audience is transported back to 'Ross's' current situation again in 1922, where the RAF officers attempt to smuggle him away from the barracks so his infamous identity is not revealed to the press. At the end of the play, we are faced with the reality that the story takes place within a dream, questioning whether the events really happened or were hallucinated. Perhaps it was all a 'product of Ross's fevered introspection'. Likewise, the tale of Lawrence almost acts as a metaphor for Ross's personal anxieties that are suppressed, including his crisis of sexuality that he cannot come to terms with. The two identities of Lawrence and Ross represent this constant tug of war between our real and constructed self.
Director Rob Croser handles this text in an astounding way, translating it so vividly on stage and recreating scenes with incredible attention to detail and intense characterization. The set design takes us back and forth between memory to memory with versatile settings like the backdrop of the desert that also acts as a walkway. Likewise, simple elements like the addition of Arabian music, or heightened character qualities like accent and impersonation, make us a part of this stylised world. Costume by Ken Kurtz is incredibly thorough as it reflects the style of that time; from 1920s military to the Arabian inspired outfits that set the scene in an instant. Ken has about 500 costumes in his wardrobe and focuses on two things 'authenticity and attention to detail', which is undoubtedly evident.
Independent Theatre have invested a lot of time and energy on this powerful and moving retelling of Rattigan's story, that plays on this 'dreamy' atmosphere with ambient and effective lighting hues by Chris Petridis, heightening the poignant and emotional context behind the script. The lighting hints at this hallucinatory quality, with greens dominant in a number of Ross's most pivotal moments on stage to convey his inner-most desires that he tries to resist. Likewise, as Ross begins to dream or hallucinate, the stage is dimmed, and a pink spotlight illuminates the bare space before us, featuring a show host impersonator introducing the characters of the play. A whimsical element boasts from this moment on, making the crowd aware that this all may not be real.
Will Cox as T.E Lawrence has once again made his mark, as he stuns the audience with his riveting and intense performance. He understands how to confront the viewer by really absorbing both personalities of Ross and Lawrence, managing to evoke contrasting emotions of sympathy and vulnerability as well as unease. An example of this is the moment that the viewer is presented with the news of Lawrence's growing atrocities, including the murder of his servant Hamed and all the other innocent victims that were lost to war. Cox seizes the audience with his dominant direction and stage presence, as his performance does not falter in any way, connecting so closely with the protagonist. If you are not familiar with the text, it can be a challenge to fully understand it in the first few sequences, but Cox manages to tell it in a way that you will not forget. Cox joined Independent Theatre in 2007 and has gained an extensive amount of acting experience, with one of his recent plays being the much-loved Matchmaker. Overall, the entire male cast of ROSS connected with their characters in an impressive way- from the accents to personalised details, the audience grew mesmerised by Croser's interpretation.