The Vertical Hour | Sydney Theatre CompanyLeft - Victoria Longley, Christopher Stollery & Pip Miller. Cover - Pip Miller and Victoria Longley. Photos - Tracey Schramm

The vertical hour, David Hare (playwright) tells us, is a phrase from combat medicine to describe a moment. A moment when someone has been injured and you can intervene to be of some assistance. It is from this moment that the play unfolds and it can be seen reflected in the many facets of the performance.

Nadia Blye (Victoria Longley) is a former war correspondent turned Yale academic renowned for her support of the war in Iraq. She travels with her boyfriend Phillip (Christopher Stollery) to the English/Wales border country, a place of renowned for its placid beauty and historic turmoil, to meet Phillip’s estranged and scandalous father Oliver (Pip Miller). Phillip becomes convinced that his father is trying to seduce his girlfriend and warns her of his father’s cultured charms. Against her better judgement Nadia is drawn to Oliver not of lust, but for want of a better understanding of this enigmatic old doctor.

The Vertical Hour is a beautifully penned play. Hare has a traditionalist style in that he employs a linear narrative and naturalistic characters, but does so against the immediate contemporary backdrop of the modern world. While the plot is fairly simple to follow, there’s more discussion and deconstruction of international current affairs than your evening news bulletin (which I guess isn’t really saying much these days, but I digress). What Hare delivers is a character driven drama that delves into the confused psyche of the Western World as it struggles to find its identity on a field where the rules of engagement have been smudged.

The STC cast stand up to the test as expected. It is Zindzi Okenyo’s first production with the troupe as Terri, an angst ridden college student who has lost faith in the American dream, and Longley never ceases to satisfy. But the stand out performance for me was Miller. While he stumbled through a couple of his lines, it became an afterthought as he veritably transformed into the intelligent and manipulative old scoundrel that the role of Oliver demanded.

Julian Meyrick (director) has adapted the play effectively for the Drama Theatre’s expansive stage. The Vertical Hour employs an entire cast of five, with no more than three on stage at any one time but at no point did the stage feel empty. This is partially due to the performer’s skill, but also due to Stephen Curtis’ exceptional design work. The ‘lazy susan’ stage piece almost merits a trip to the theatre on its own.

The design and professionalism of the cast however also bear my one major criticism of the performance. While in the British border country the backdrop for the set is made by abstract reflective boards onto which images of the sky is projected. The result is very effective throughout the play providing the audience with a solid grasp of the flow of time throughout the play. However, in the final scene, back in Nadia’s office at Yale where she has a heart to heart consultation with Terri, I could see Stollery and Miller stretching and milling about in the reflections off the set. It was just a little thing to be honest, but exceptionally distracting from the performance happening on stage under the lights.

I’m generally not a fan of traditional theatre or linear plots, but the depth of the characters and level of cultural/social discourse kept me entertained throughout the performance. Hare is a champion of the British theatre and he without a doubt knows what he is doing. With such incredible high production values, what STC present in The Vertical Hour almost feels like going to the cinema to see a drama... but fuelled with the electricity of live theatre. This is definitely worth a look.

Sydney Theatre Company presents
By David Hare

Venue: Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
Season: 15 February - 22 March 2008
Plays: Monday 18 & 25 February; 3, 10 & 17 March At 6:30pm; Tuesday – Saturday At 8pm
Matinees: Wednesday Matinee At 1pm, Saturday Matinee At 2pm
Prices: $77 / $62 Concession. Matinee $68 / $56 Concession
Bookings: STC Box Office (02) 9250 1777 OR SOH Box Office (02) 9250 7777

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