The Sound Inside is a gripping, intellectual play that is packed with literary references and yet devoid of emotional satisfaction.
Playwright Adam Rapp has written a clever, smart script that relies heavily on literary references. Audiences with a sound knowledge of US literature are likely to appreciate the quips and witty remarks about prominent US authors. Lovers of literature in general are likely to enjoy the references as well.
But, this production by Melbourne Theatre Company lacks warmth. The stage design by Jo Briscoe is stark. Huge docks of spotlights blast the stage intermittently. The stage has a revolving mechanism that is intrusive rather than complementary. Falling snow starts in the middle of the play with somewhat noisy snow machines set above the stage. The setting is cold. The play is bleak.
This two-hander is in the hands of Melbourne Theatre Company director Sarah Goodes. It starts slowly, builds momentum, and then trails off leaving more questions than answers.
The story starts when the brash and enigmatic Christopher (Shiv Palekar) barges into the office of acclaimed author Bella Baird (Catherine McClements). The two misfits find in each other an unexpected intellectual match. A faltering friendship is formed around a love of books, reading and writing.
McClements is a well-known Australian actor instantly recognisable from her roles on television and the stage. Her American accent is less recognisable. Her character Bella is a 53-year-old Yale professor with a love of literature that has consumed her life, leaving little time nor energy for meaningful connections. McClements instils as much warmth and humour that she can into this brittle character, who shares her inner most thoughts with the audience. McClements builds a strong rapport with the audience. And yet her character Bella’s detachment from life itself is disturbing and not at all endearing. Her stories, on the other hand, are delightful and McClements shines with impeccable timing.
Shiv Palekar is intriguing as Bella’s student Christopher. Palekar’s Christopher is enigmatic, as he is meant to be. And the line between fiction and real life becomes blurry as the play progresses. The story is captivating at the start, full of hope that this meeting of two minds could lead to a heartfelt connection. However, the ending is desolate. A clever premise that is ultimately disheartening.
The Sound Inside was nominated for six 2020 Tony Awards, including Best Play. It has been described as a literary detective work of the highest order, which unfurls like a gripping novel. Perhaps it has more meaning for a US audience. Or perhaps two years of a pandemic has dampened the appetite for clever but depressing productions.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
The Sound Inside
by Adam Rapp
Director Sarah Goodes
Venue: Fairfax Studio | Arts Centre Melbourne VIC
Dates: 20 May – 2 July 2022
Bookings: mtc.com.au | 03 8688 0800