The Sugar MotherLeft – Val Riches and Sophie Kesteven

One may say that Elizabeth Jolley’s novels and short stories commonly explore the themes of loneliness and entrapment, incorporating characters who felt alienated. This can certainly be said of The Sugar Mother and was used to great effect in gaining our empathy for each of the characters. It’s rare that a narrative is developed so well that we actually care about each person’s journey, however this is a play that did just that.

The Sugar Mother was adapted by John Senczuk back in the early 90s from two of Elizabeth Jolley’s works; a short story called Woman in a Lampshade and her novel The Sugar Mother. To Jolley’s fascination and keen interest, the adaptation first appeared at the Sydney Opera House in 1993. Senczuk managed the intricate task of weaving the narrative to riveting effect, while maintaining the integrity of the original works.

Once ushered into the space, my companions and I noted that the eclectic set was easily the most “cluttered” we had seen from the notably sleek Director/Designer John Senczuk. The homely scene was littered with books, papers and writing implements spread across a bedroom and a sitting room. All this was nestled in front of a line of pine trees. The scene, which closely resembled a description of Jolley’s own home with her husband in Claremont, “full of books and surrounded by trees”, was useful to show a variety of both indoor and outdoor scenes without any need for changes.

While the pace was zippy, the first half felt just a tiny bit long. Perhaps this feeling was generated by our confusion about the direction of the story, and what was in fact, just a story. The second half was engaging and brought about the answers we sought. At the closure of the play, the general consensus among the audience was “ahhhh, clever!”

Outstanding performances were given by several of the cast members. The young Sophie Kesteven, in her professional debut as the meek and mostly silent Leila, used non verbal skills to create a vulnerable and endearing young lady. Known only as Leila’s Mother, Val Riches found the perfect blend of both mischievous and manipulative to prey on the unsuspecting and good willed Edwin (Ian Toyne). The relationship between Edwin and Daphne (Anna Brockway) was one of the most amusing in the production and their dialogue flowed naturally.

Almost entirely removed from the rest of the cast were the scantily dressed Cecilia (Christie Sistrunk) and David McLeod who was known only as Young Man. Their interactions remained ambiguous until the final revealing moments of the play.

And with that, the newest theatre in Northbridge put forward its second offering with the WA Premiere of The Sugar Mother. The Metcalfe Playhouse provides Perth theatre goers with a much needed, and “Goldilocks approved” (just right) standard in Perth. Although one can find thriving talent among Perth’s community theatre scene, the productions can be hit and miss. And, while we are often treated to large scale, big ticket shows, something in between has been lacking for discerning theatre goers in Perth. This is where the Metcalfe Playhouse and productions such as The Sugar Mother come into their own. Highly recommended!

Janus Entertainment presents
Adapted by John Senczuk from the fiction by Elizabeth Jolley

Director John Senczuk

Venue: Metcalfe Playhouse
Dates: 1 – 18 September, 2011
Bookings: 9228 1455

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