It is about Clarice (Lynette Curran), who against the advice of her North Shore family, travels to Egypt on a spiritual quest. Having recently lost her husband, Frank (Russell Kiefel), she is driven by a need to discover her own identity. She believes that, by her own inaction, she is partly responsible for the conflict between the Western and the Moslem worlds.
Sewell uses this global conflict to explore a broad sweep of complicated ideas. While it may initially seem difficult to grasp them all, it is this wash of ideas that keeps you returning to the play long after it finishes.
He addresses both the personal and the political ramifications of our lives and examines collective responsibility, grief, loss, attitudes toward dying, making the right choices, and our need to lead meaningful lives. He examines individual identity – not only how we define ourselves within the context of our personal relationships, but also how we define our individual actions within the larger, international context. The central idea, however, is the redemptive power of forgiveness and love.
This central notion is so simple and obvious that I suspect it may well be dismissed by cynics who have heard it all before. But that is the point – Sewell is challenging the lack of intellectual and social engagement in our culture. He maintains that these fundamental issues deserve discussion.
To get the most out of this play Sewell demands that the audience works a bit. He provides naturalistic elements with characters that are readily identifiable. But this is by no means a naturalistic play. It is not about character or plot. It is a biblical parable about big contemporary moral questions: how hatred has led to irredeemable global divisions and how stopping the hatred can repair them. Sewell employs Christian notions of guilt, redemption, martyrdom and salvation throughout the play.
Director, Kate Gaul, achieves a good balance in delivering a form that is both metaphorical and naturalistic. Brian Thompson’s set is elegant and minimalist and Verity Hampson’s atmospheric lighting cleverly casts long, foreboding shadows.
The cast is uniformly strong, led by Lynette Curran’s discerning, nuanced performance of the grieving, feisty idealist, Clarice, who has always seen the truth.
Anna Lise Phillips, as her daughter Leanne, delivers an authentic and emotional performance as her character comes to understand the essential lack of integrity life.
While the two leading women are fleshed out to a degree, others remain at the level of symbol.
Probably the most difficult role is Ralph, played by Damian Rice, Clarice’s belligerent and insensitive son-in-law. Rice effectively manages the shifts from initially providing comic relief as a stereotypical Aussie male to revealing the darker, more damaging aspects of such a character.
In The Gates of Egypt apolitical Australian suburbia collides with the zealotry of Moslem extremists. The materialistic, racist, intellectually insular and morally impoverished life inhabited by Ralph is juxtaposed against the similar ignorance and prejudice of Abu Abbas (Hazem Shammas), the Moslem terrorist. Each has dehumanized the other; both are morally bereft and devoid of compassion.
Stephen Sewell is a discerning writer whose exquisite use of language and provocative use of the theatrical form has resulted in a challenging, profound and wonderful play.
Company B Presents
The Gates of Egypt
by Stephen Sewell
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 8 February – 11 March 2007
Previews: Saturday 3 February at 8pm, Sunday 4 February at 5pm. All preview tickets $32.
Opening Night: Wednesday 7 February at 8pm
Times: Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 5pm.
Tickets: Full $52. Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) & Groups 10+ $44. Concession $32
Under 27: $32 tickets for Tuesday 6.30pm available from 10am on the day (subject to availability).
Bookings: (02) 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au