The play is rather muddled in its themes, the central one of coming to terms with grief interlocking with one of chaos theory that is introduced arbitrarily by a ball game. According to author Shelagh Stephenson, the play “is about the climate of global insecurity we are all living through.” The play is about many things, but lacks clear focus. Stephenson admits that her research leads her down unexpected byways and her fascination for these findings can prove a distraction. Act Two leads the story into a convoluted plot that undermines the emotional impact of the play.
Sarah Pierce plays the mother Lia in an understated manner, representing her as a woman who has frozen into grief, clinging to any possible lifeline that presents itself: an email, a phone call, a psychic. She is weighed down, her posture and her voice lowered. It is a very natural portrait, but lacks definition onstage, particularly when she turns backstage to deliver lines. The shell that this woman has protected herself may be meant to hide a depth of feeling, but the emotional undercurrent is absent, particularly in the opening scenes.
Understated is a word that could be applied to many aspects of this production. It is strange that a theatre company that can afford elaborate sets opted for one that is reminiscent of a rehearsal space. The set, designed by Ralph Myers, is minimalist, with the living areas delineated by two walls in an L-shape. By the end of the play, the space is entirely denuded, bare but for a black and white tiled floor. This is appropriate to the plot, but would have been more effective if the initial setting had been more homely.
Nicholas Bell, as the father Nick, is tense, rational and given to occasional outbursts of anger. His portrait of a parent trying to continue with his life in the face of his son’s loss, as well as cope with his wife’s refusal to believe he is dead, is convincing. Bell has a strong stage presence, which he maintains through stillness.
Beverley Dunn as the ‘sensitive’ Joyce and Caroline Brazier as the television reporter Joanna are played with strong definition and make the most of Stephenson’s trademark humour. The characters are almost stereotypes, but support the protagonists well. Lewis Fiander gives a finely controlled performance as the grandfather Gordon.
Grant Cartright, making his mainstage debut with the Melbourne Theatre Company, plays Adam with fuller brush strokes, making full use of the open stage and the mercurial character he plays. He manages to override the inconsistencies and incredulity of the plot by his devil-may-care attitude, and plays with the differing moods: dramatic, funny and macabre.
The final scene, which depicts the parents sitting entwined on the bare floor, lit so that their shadows are highlighted on the back wall, is well written and well played, but the opportunity for a big dramatic statement has passed. It is the writing that lets it down.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by Shelagh Stephenson
the Arts Centre | Fairfax Studio
13 June - 21 July 2007
Mon & Tue 6.30pm, Wed 1pm & 8pm, Thu & Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm & 8.30pm
$16 - $72.10
Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or visit www.mtc.com.au