Caress/Ache | Griffin Theatre CompanyLeft – Helen Christinson and Gary Clementson. Cover – Sabryna-Te’o. Photos – Brett Boardman

The name Caress/Ache offers a picture of what the show should be like – a delicate caress, a subtle ache. Sadly, this production does not live up to the play’s name: instead of a caress, this is a sledgehammer.

Caress/Ache is a picaresque play, offering us a variety of episodic storylines which eventually converge. Mark (Ian Stenlake) is a surgeon who, after losing a patient, can no longer bear to touch or be touched. Saskia (Helena Christinson) and Cameron (Gary Clementson) face the painful implosion of their relationship after he sleeps with her boss. Arezu (Sabryna Te’o) seeks knowledge about her homeland Iran, heedless of the pain the nation has caused her family. Cate (Te’o) and Belinda (Zoe Carides) work on a sex hotline, desperately trying to stretch out conversations with clients who pay by the minute. And Alice (Carides) travels to Singapore with one desperate mission in mind: to hug her son Peter (Clementson) before he is executed.

There’s a lot in here that is familiar and which the audience can relate to. The final plotline I mentioned above has obvious relevance to the audience, given the Bali 9 case which is so present in cultural consciousness right now, and a lot of people were crying during Alice and Peter’s heartwrenching scenes. But while there’s a lot that’s familiar, it isn’t really balanced with a lot that’s new or unusual. The episodic nature of the play means that the stories are glossed over and not explored in the depth they might be, and so some of their familiarity becomes cliché: for example, we have seen a thousand couples like Saskia and Cameron break up, and there is nothing in their scenes which we haven’t seen before.

The storylines converge to hammer home one point: touch is important to human existence. This is reinforced by the scientific facts about the human body’s physiological response to touch projected on the walls. And maybe I’m demanding a bit much here, but… come on, isn’t that obvious? It feels like the play doesn’t trust us to take home its central point – a point which is already self-evident – and so it repeats it again and again, in various algorithmic variations. I’ve been a big fan of Anthony Skuse’s direction in the past, but I think he’s missed the mark here: this production makes an already heavyhanded script even more heavyhanded.

It’s worth noting that my opinion is certainly not the opinion of everyone: on the night I saw the show, about half the audience gave the show a standing ovation. And it is, after all, engaging, very well acted (Te’o in particular is a standout), and visually and aurally appealing. But for me, Caress/Ache was not enough caress, not enough ache. Instead, it was a slap in the face with someone yelling, “Do you get it yet? How about now? How about now?”

Griffin Theatre Company
by Suzie Miller

Director Anthony Skuse

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre 10 Nimrod Street Kings Cross NSW 2011
Dates: 6 March – 11 April, 2015
Tickets: $55 – $35
Bookings: 02 9361 3817 |

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