Warf 1, April 20
The two aging intellectuals in Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play are served up on a platter in the opening scenes, quizzed by a journalist (a device she used in Honour). So there is little more to learn about medical high-flier Alice (Sarah Peirse) and novelist Patrick (Robert Menzies), one dark secret apart.
They are plain fare to Joe’s mustard. Exceptionally realised by Harry Greenwood, their teenaged son has pricked their civilised balloon by graffiting a mosque. The set-up looks to be a God of Carnage one when the parents of Joe’s accomplice visit, and gushing pleasantries descend to accusations and a whiff of class warfare.
Murray-Smith cheerfully satirises the Australia-for-Australians creed of blue-collar Bob (an excellent Yure Covich) and Annie (a convincing Claire Jones). By contrast her intellectuals are ripped apart to reveal suppurating hypocrisy – at least on Alice’s part.
Joe was the real story here, finding himself up against the wall (and spraying on it) in trying to rebel against his infuriating, cultured, know-all, too-good, ex-rebellious parents. For all the trademark Murray-Smith fizz in the dialogue they fail to haul themselves beyond type, however, hence the need to impose a plot twist when Joe was crying out for further excavation. Peirse battles against an implausible character, while Menzies’ fidgety Patrick disinclines one to read his novels.
Geraldine Hakewill nails Rebecca, the student journalist whose prying explodes the supposedly perfect family tableau, and Tahki Saul is Joe’s worldly, cynical teacher.
That Andrew Upton’s directing sometimes feels like cadet manoeuvres on Joe’s private-school parade ground may be intentional, given the prevailing war-zone. But the seams show, especially when we have the actors sitting with their backs to a third of the audience while conversing, so we lose not just their faces but something of their voices. Elsewhere a stark, motionless simplicity is at one with designer David Fleischer’s cool, impassive walls and floor: a house where taste and urbanity rule, and where a now-aberrant son is the trophy of a faded love. The set’s monumentalism creates expectancy, although all the momentum is towards Alice’s past rather than Joe’s here-and-now predicament.
Until June 8.