Wednesday, 9 September 1998

Shark Fin Soup by Michael Gurr, Sept 9,1998

Shark Fin Soup by Michael Gurr,  MTC
Fairfax Studio until October 10, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert on Sep 9, 1998

Michael Gurr has a couple of hits on his hands already. Sex Diary of an Infidel toured Australia to critical acclaim and Jerusalem won Literary Awards for Drama in both Victoria and NSW.

These plays and others in his repertoire address political or social issues. Shark Fin Soup, directed for the MTC by the deft hand of Bruce Myles, is more concerned with relationships and fate, making it more clearly focussed on character than issue.

This production is a really good night in the theatre. The characters are colourful and eccentric in spite of their inherent ordinariness. Performances are uniformly excellent and the writing is witty, often hilarious.

Vera Benn (Catherine Wilkin) is a famous clairvoyant who "sees" people's fates only by touching objects owned by them. She is married to Frank (John McTernan). Her daughter, Lucy (Tammy McCarthy) has abandoned her failed fashion design career to start an innovative restaurant called The Common Dish. Her partners are her ex-engineer and security guard boyfriend, Daniel (Paul English) and their randy chef pal, Ewan (Simon Wilton). The manifesto is, "just soup, bread and no bullshit"

Their lives seem newly hopeful, charmed, as do the lives of Alan (Kevin Harrington) and Rosemary (Alison Whyte) who are just engaged. But there is a creeping sense of doom. There are misunderstandings, deceptions, financial problems are solved in unorthodox ways. And Vera's heart disease requires a transplant. Things start to fall apart and despair replaces hope.

Myles has woven together the various lives by allowing scenes to bleed into each other. Characters remain on stage after their scenes are finished or hover behind the huge, transparent jagged triangles of Judith Cobb's startling set.

Wilkin is stately and considered as Vera travelling her uncharted path. English is a fine study of the crumbling of a pedant's dream.  Alison Whyte plays Rosemary, a delightfully familiar fast-talking salesgirl, with relish and impeccable timing.

Vera is the conscience of the play although this is not really followed through satisfactorily. In fact, the ending leaves many issues unresolved and most characters' journeys through the play remain unsatisfyingly incomplete.

The significance of Shark Fin Soup eludes me although soups feature in the menu of the cafe. However, the notion of luck, fate and future ruling lives is pervasive. Our dream castles are built on sand. Nothing is predictable - not even a human heart.

By Kate Herbert

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