Tuesday, 12 November 2002

Sweet Phoebe, Nov 12, 2002

Sweet Phoebe by Michael Gow  
By Araucous  Productions  at The Store Room  
Nov 12 until  December 1, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Sweet Phoebe by Michael Gow is a play about a couple searching for a missing dog. Of course that is only the beginning.

Helen  (Sandra Rucins) and Frazer  (Mark Blackmore) are the ultimate dislikeable yuppie couple from the 1980's.

She is an architect. He is an advertising executive. Both are arrogant, opinionated and ambitious. They seem devoted to each other and to their meticulously planned future together. But the relationship, we discover, is built on sandy ground.

This production, directed by VCA graduate, Damien A Pree,  moves swiftly, taking advantage of Gow's economical dialogue and short, snappy scenes.  The problem is that much of the action seems over-directed.

One example is in early scenes when the pair circle each other like animals in a rather too obvious and stagy manner.

The two actors seem out of their depth in the first half of the play but are much more comfortable later.

When Helen and Frazer become desperate to find their friends' runaway dog, Rucins and Blackmore become far more connected to the characters and emotions.

Gow creates a couple in an obsessively ordered, controlled and insular world. They have a plan for their financial and romantic future.

When their friends ask them to baby-sit their dog, Pheobe, for a week, Helen and Frazer fear it will upset their china doll lives. They are right - but for reasons unexpected.

The couple fall in love with Phoebe. Their shallow lives need her. In just three days they adore her. They walk her, play with her and talk about her.

When she disappears they are frantic. Their carefully balanced little world falls at a rapid pace into complete chaos as they search for the lost pup in the grim suburbs and their grimy, unfamiliar populace.

There is something of a 40's Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracey movie in Gow's script. It moves speedily with almost filmic editing and has a similar wry, absurd style of dialogue.

The jazz sound track that covers the frequent scene changes keeps the energy pumping as we accompany the pair through their race against time to find Phoebe. Sharp lighting changes (Marcus Shutenko) enhance the starkness of the style.

My difficulty is that my first viewing of Sweet Phoebe was seeing Cate Blanchett  as Helen in the first Belvoir Street Theatre production. It is a tall order to top that performance.

By Kate Herbert

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