Review: The Haunting of Daniel Gartrell

Daniel Gartrell is the famous yet tortured Australian poet who lives in the suburbs, never leaves his home and whose only contact with the outside world comes via his daughter, Sarah. Gartrell’s most famous poem is Mt. Ragged, so named for the place where he grew up and where it would appear many things occurred which continue to haunt the poet.

One day, as Gartrell sits naked in his living room drinking brandy, a young actor comes knocking. It is Craig Castevich, an ambitious and sprightly young man from Bondi who is preparing for his role playing the poet in a biopic of his life. Castevich wants to know Gartrell, wants to get inside him and understand the way he thinks and feels. But this enthusiasm and eagerness also means he runs headfirst into the dark, haunted world of Gartrell, a world that swallows Castevich whole. Indeed Castevich achieves his mission of becoming Gartrell but with dire consequences.

This production of The Haunting of Daniel Gartrell, in spite of the great story and well written script, is let down by the performances, particularly that of Joshua Morton as Castevich. Morton overplays the role, at times delivering his lines with so much bravado that it caused me to squirm in my chair. Mark Sheridan as Gartrell was much stronger, however, giving a performance that although at times seemed to border on satire, was at least more natural and convincing. Elizabeth Tuilektu was at times brilliant but at others her performance seemed overwrought. The stage at the Old Fitzroy is extremely small and as such the set design needs to be spot on to make the most of what little there is to work with. The set gives the audience the view of Gartrell’s living room which is filled with objects, books, chairs and a table. Its claustrophobic and utterly suburban feel gives the sense that the inhabitants are trapped inside and locked off from the rest of the world. This of course is intentional and feeds into the themes of isolation and entrapment that abound in the play.

I have read reviews of this play when it was performed by other, higher profile actors and all the reactions have been very positive. Unfortunately for me I did not get to see those productions. Instead the one I saw was thoroughly un-enjoyable. At times I cringed and at others I sighed. In the end I was checking my watch, waiting for the whole thing to end. Go and see it to support Australian theatre, however don’t go and see it if you want to see good theatre.

The Haunting of Daniel Gartell, written by Reg Cribb and staring Mark Sheridan and Joshua Morton, ran at the Old Fitzroy Theatre from August 8 – September 3.

Camilla Palmer