Friday, 21 March 2014

This Year's Ashes, March 21, 2014 ***

By Jane Bodie, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Red Stitch Actors Theatre, March 21 until April 19, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 21
Stars: *** 
Review also published online in Herald Sun on Wed March 26, 2014 and later in print. KH

Jeremy Stanford   & Rosie Lockhart; Photo by Jodie Hutchinson

The early scenes of This Year’s Ashes, Jane Bodie’s play about a woman’s self-destructive response to grief, showcase both Bodie’s crackling dialogue and an impressive cast.

Despite Bodie’s witty writing and well-observed characters, the second half of the play, directed by Tim Roseman, is less successful because it becomes repetitive and has several false endings.

Ellen (Rosie Lockhart) is 30-something, lives in inner-Sydney surviving on vodka and frequent, anonymous, sexual encounters with men.

When her father (Jeremy Stanford) arrives unannounced after an unexplained, two-year absence, Rosie absents herself from her marketing job to watch The Ashes with her beloved dad – in the discomfort of her chaotic studio flat.

Lockhart balances vulnerability and toughness as Ellen, shifting from drunken harridan to demanding child as she negotiates the unpredictable terrain of her relationships with her father and the men she seduces in the over-sized bed that dominates the stage.

The entire cast delivers Bodie’s whip-sharp dialogue with commendable comic timing, but Daniel Frederiksen relishes playing Ellen’s assorted lovers and is hilariously goofy as warm-hearted, hopeful Tom who is determined to coax Ellen back into the world.

As Ellen’s father, Brian, Jeremy Stanford exudes a cool, elegant charm that initially has the audience believing he is Ellen’s long-lost lover – but it turns out to be just a classic Electra Complex.

Cricket aficionados will appreciate Brian’s lovingly detailed descriptions of cricket terminology and the play in the 2010 Ashes – despite Australia’s loss of the series.

There is a slight but perceptible awkwardness in both Stanford and Lockhart’s stage presences that may be the director’s intention, or it may be something that will settle during the season.

Ellen’s big secret about her father is revealed in the second half, finally explaining her dysfunctional boozing, promiscuity, emotional disconnection and inconsolable grief.

The earlier acerbic dialogue is replaced with some compelling, darker material, but the narrative spins its wheels after the big reveal and the final scenes are ultimately less satisfying than the first half.

In the intimate Red Stitch space, the audience is a voyeur into Ellen’s loneliness, desperation and grief and the graphic sexual encounters, nudity and smattering of expletives may be confronting for some viewers.

This Year’s Ashes challenges our view of grieving by shining a glaring light in on the unsettling experiences of one woman.

By Kate Herbert

Directed by Tim Roseman

With Daniel Frederiksen, Rosie Lockhart & Jeremy Stanford

Lighting Designer Hartley T A Kemp
Set & Costume Designer Kat Chan
Sound Design & Composition Russell Goldsmith & Daniel Nixon
Assistant Director Alice Darling
Stage Managers Elizabeth Downes & Laura Duffy
Production Manager Linda Hum

Jeremy Stanford   & Rosie Lockhart; Photo by Jodie Hutchinson.

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