Friday, 11 March 2016

The Distance, March 10, 2016 ***


Written by Deborah Bruce, by Melbourne Theatre Company
The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, until April 9, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 10, 2016
Stars ***

Review also published online in Herald Sun on Fri March 11, 2016 and in print thereafter. KH

 Nadine Garner, Susan Prior, Katrina Milosevic- photo Jeff Busby
The MTC production of The Distance almost didn’t make the distance on opening night when a technical problem plunged the stage into darkness only 15 minutes after the show started.

In the shadows, the adroit and audacious cast, while maintaining their characters and near-faultless UK accents, quipped about blackouts and, ‘Should we start from the beginning?’ until a disembodied voice announced the hitch was fixed.

It seemed appropriate in a play in which the characters’ lives and loves are riddled with hitches, the central catastrophe being Bea’s (Susan Prior) sudden return to England from Australia where she has abandoned her husband, Simon (Martin Blum), and her two boys under five.

The Distance, by UK playwright Deborah Bruce, challenges the assumption that all women take naturally to mothering and Bea’s closest friends – bossy, new mother, Kate (Nadine Garner), and single mum, Alex (Katrina Milosevic) – will not accept Bea’s decision.

The performances are accomplished, despite the limitations in Bruce’s writing and Leticia Cáceres’ direction.

The domineering Kate, rather than the more obvious Bea, becomes the pivotal character and Garner’s dynamic energy makes this bullying, judgmental, incessant talker more sympathetic than could be expected of an initially dislikeable character.
  Nadine Garner, Susan Prior, Katrina Milosevic- photo Jeff Busby

Prior captures Bea’s confusion and dilemma as she struggles to understand her own decision and resist the overwhelming pressure and disapproval of her two friends.

Milosevic, as ditzy Alex, is the comic foil in the trio, stumbling around – often literally – trying to manage three sons by different fathers, the eldest of whom is played with teen angst by Joe Klocek.

The male characters talk less but are more complex and engaging than the women, with Dewi (Ben Prendergast), Kate’s beleaguered, Welsh husband, being the still point in this domestic chaos.

Nathan Page, as Dewi’s brother, Vinnie, creates one of the most compelling moments when Vinnie laments over Dewi’s abandonment of his daughter from another relationship.

The broad comic and dramatic elements of Bruce’s script are often out of balance, with the comedy undercutting the drama at inapt moments.

Bruce’s dialogue is often repetitive and the characters are two-dimensional until the introduction of some light and shade in the second half.

The play is too long – some judicious editing could knock 30 minutes off it – and Cáceres’ direction is awkward, often rushed and, at times, a little hysterical, forcing the actors to play characters at one pitch for the first half.

The Distance is by no means a perfect play but the cast make it entertaining and its themes certainly trigger discussion about parenting and the roles of friendships.

By Kate Herbert 
  Nadine Garner, Susan Prior- photo Jeff Busby

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