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New Zealand Listener Review, 8-14 May 2004




Sophia of Moscow (near Toowoomba)
by Paul Little

GOLDIE, by Peter Hawes, directed by Colin McColl, Maidment Theatre, Auckland (to May 22)

Quite possibly the best reason to see the Auckland Theatre Company's revival of Peter Hawes's 1987 play about Charles F Goldie is for the performance of George Henare. As Patara Te Tuhi, he reveals an eerie ability to make everyone else on stage invisible as he runs philosophical rings around the obtuse Goldie with his epistemologically unnerving Maori koans.

On opening night, he alone of the main players managed a consistent performance. Michael Hurst in the title role seemed much more comfortable in some scenes than others. But his transformation--from optimistic, top-of-the-class returning expatriate at the start of the play to deranged, lead-poisoned has-been two and a half hours later--was remarkable.

Sophia Hawthorne, for some reason, was trying out an accent that suggested mixed Russian-Home Counties-Australian ancestry, and the beguiling Cherie James, who shone in the first half, was left with little more to do than conduct a one-woman gurning contest in the second.

The Goldie of this play is not intended to be the Goldie of history, both our most conservative and our most controversial artist. Hawes offers up a mixture of fact, speculation and pure invention. The first half is focused on the painting of "The Arrival of the Maori in New Zealand", signed by Goldie and his mentor Louis J Steele, though only the former works on it in the play. We know that this is invention--the artist hasn't existed who would share credit for a painting without a gun at his head.

Thanks in part to his dialogues with Te Tuhi, this Goldie comes to believe that he understands Maori--the "dying race" he saw it as his mission to chronicle before it was too late. (Although he painted a surprisingly small number of that race, over and over again.)

Goldie begins to go mad when he is accused of using sensitised canvases and, effectively, tracing photographs to create his work. His downfall is complete when, after congratulating himself on this affinity with Maori, he discovers that his long-time Maori housekeeper has been married for 20 years.

We see him last endlessly scrawling his signature on scraps of paper, an act described by his modernist friend Harry Morrison as the greatest modern painting. That this is said of a work done by a madman, while visually it looks like the work of Colin McMahon, suggests an ambivalence on Hawes's part about aspects of art.

What is not ambivalent is that the vanishing breed was artists like Goldie: painting to the death what he thought was a dying subject in a dead-end style using white-leaded canvases that helped to kill him.

In a play that makes play with ideas about art and reality, one of the more stimulating paradoxes occurred offstage. Sitting in the back row on opening night was Goldie forger Karl Sim (aka Charles F Goldie). At least, I think it was him. If not, it was a very good likeness.

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