Taking its name from the ancient Incan settlement, Machu Picchu is playwright Sue Smith's engineered response to sudden impact life changes, in this case, severe and incapacitating injury.
Paul and Gabby are successful engineers, with successful careers, parents to Lucy, a surgeon. His philanthropic work in Third World Countries is a badge of honour and a bone of contention in their relationship.
Inspired by Machu Picchu to become engineers, the pair intended to make a pilgrimage to the place, but life appeared to put paid to that pursuit. Driving home at night, Gabby, her name illustrative of her nature, hits a 'roo, a collision that renders Paul a quadriplegic.
A near death and life changing experience, Smith employs flashback to look at the couple's life past and present, from early romance when Gabby “engineered” Paul's marriage proposal, to the here and now in sickness, not in health, till death us do part hard graft of that marriage.
Death has been postponed and Paul is not at peace with the reprieve. Gabby cannot see herself solely as a carer. Their medico daughter is appalled at Paul's entertaining euthanasia.
Darren Gilshenan, usually associated with fine physical theatre brings that same same focus and discipline to stillness to the paralysed Paul, leavening the tragedy and drama with the divine comedy of life, finding the funny in infirmity. Lisa McCune in fine form and even gets to sing a little. Luke Joslin and Elena Carapetis play the couple's life long friends, Marty and Kim, struggling with their very First World problem of conceiving a child. The contrast of life and death situations brought into sharp(ish) relief with ICU vs IVF. Annabel Mattheson is the couple's daughter, Lucy and Renato Musolino is Lou, a lay back psychologist round out the ensemble.
Jonathon Oxlade's bland, utilitarian set divides the hospital bed present with an all purpose blank space, albeit with secreted pool, for the past. The back windows allow for spectral representation of dreams and nightmares and a portal from the Graceland of the hereafter, or whatever hell-hole is home to dreadful Elvis impersonators.
Machu Picchu feels and looks like a fringe play, out of place on the main stage of the Wharf 1.
It works best when focused on the two leads, the other characters tending to be superfluous and sometimes unbelievable. A concentration on the couple would have pared back the padded narrative and plot structure.
Like its geographical namesake, Machu Picchu is overgrown by an unchecked jungle.
Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company of South Australia present
by Sue Smith
Director Geordie Brookman
Venue: Wharf 1 Theatre, The Wharf, Pier 4/5 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW
Dates: 3 March – 9 April 2016
Tickets: from $64
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 | www.sydneytheatre.com.au