Monday, 17 October 2016

Sunshine, Oct 16, 2016 ***

By Tom Holloway, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Red Stitch Actors Theatre, until Nov 5, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ***
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Oct 17, 2016 & later in print. KH
L-R: Caroline Lee (back) , George Lingard,  Philip Hayden, Ella Caldwell
On the city streets on a night of teeming rain, four apparently unrelated, but equally distressed characters share their stories in an overlapping narrative that leaves the audience gasping for breath.

In his new play, Sunshine, Tom Holloway employs a ‘choral’ style that interweaves four, unnamed characters’ monologues that tell the tale of a damp and doomed night when a marriage ends, a dead husband is mourned, a man betrays his friend and two strangers’ lives collide.

Before the inter-connection of their stories becomes clear, each character embarks on some solo soul-searching that reveals dark secrets and obsessions, deepest fears, and alarming thoughts that we hope do not manifest themselves in action.

Directed by Kirsten von Bibra, the actors (George Lingard, Ella Caldwell, Philip Hayden, Caroline Lee) initially carry their own, narrow, vertical, fluorescent lights that look like church candles but shed an unholy glow that heightens the desperation of the characters and the eeriness of the night.
Lingard’s Man 1 starts his night in a supermarket after which he pursues an unwitting customer along city streets, while Caldwell’s Woman 1 shifts manically between passionate memories and frantic tears.

Hayden is Man 2, cheerfully obsessed with a carload of teenagers whose car stereo blares a Billy Joel tune, while  Lee’s Woman 2 reflects on her past while driving around town in her husband’s enormous, leather-seated car.

Their words pour out in streams of consciousness, or come in stuttering fits that interlock with, or echo each other, but never communicate directly with other characters or create a linear dialogue.

Following their individual stories is a challenge as they prattle and rant, weep and laugh and sing, sometimes simultaneously, and this makes the first hour of the show exhausting, leaving one craving a moment of silence.

The performances are generally strong, particularly from Lee who finds a tender and poignant beauty in the grieving, older Woman 2.

Lingard creates a dangerous and volatile presence, Hayden makes his character warm and vulnerable, while Caldwell has a frenetic, youthful edginess.

Holloway’s dialogue is not easy to perform, so the actors’ delivery is sometimes awkwardness and cueing is occasionally loose although these issues may be eliminated over the season.

The final scene that replaces the theatrical device of interwoven monologues with a surprisingly conventional dialogue between two characters is a welcome relief from the previous intensity and complexity, but it is a disappointingly predictable ending to the play.

While Sunshine is a novel, theatrical experience, Holloway’s experiment with language and narrative is not entirely successful.

By Kate Herbert

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