Friday 25 May 2012

Review: Sydney Arts Guide by Richard Cotter

Lucy Miller plays the lead Kelly in Melita Rowston's CRUSHED. Pic Ian Barry

Spared from extinction, of being snuffed out after a solo season, The Spare Room, one of the great innovations of Sydney’s independent theatre scene, rewards its reprieve with the staging of CRUSHED.

At the beginning of the play, the audience is plunged, albeit briefly, into sudden darkness. In the following 80 minutes, we venture into some very dark places, thankfully brought to light with a blow torch wit and bravura.

We meet Kelly, recently returned from Prague where she is a dealer in bric-a-brac. She is back in born and bred Postcode 2477 because evidence of a two decade old murder has been unearthed. The victim was her bestie, Sunny Girl Susie, a sweet sixteen, missing believed slaughtered.

Kelly, once known as Jelly Kelly, has slimmed down and adopted a semblance of European sophistication. She is reunited with two blokes who knew Susie, and because they all knew her, they are implicated in her disappearance. Guilt by association!

Suspicion sticks like shit on an eggshell and impacts on this trio whose shared experience of Susie binds them in a web of secrets, deceits and desires.

Dazza has a distrust of DNA evidence, a mistrust born of the shambles of the Chamberlain case among other miscarriages of justice littering the local legal landscape. The discovery of Susie’s t-shirt drives Dazza dizzy with connotations of Azaria’s matinee jacket and the finger of flawed forensics pointing to his complicity in Susie’s disappearance.

Jason is now a lecturer in paleontology at the local university. His profession is quite ironic now that his own buried past is being dug up and examined, an archaeology of heart ache, an unfulfilled future relegated to the reliquary of his present.

Melita Rowston’s script shows a rich facility of language, clearly defined character creation and narrative arc. Her exploration of the lost child scenario – the stolen, the taken, the abducted, the disappeared– is as well executed as the best in our dramatic dreaming.

An assured grasp of comic irony fuels the play which blasts along with ballistic pace and precision, targeting the tragedy with a trajectory of jocularity that is robust and ribald.

This production, deftly directed by Lucinda Gleeson, is powered by high octane performances by Lucy Miller, Sean Barker and Jeremy Waters.

Miller is marvellous as Kelly, a kinetic energiser confronting cultural cringe, emotional closure and a life changing decision. Barker bull terriers his way through Dazza, a dazzling display of the dichotomy of openness and simmering volatility, playful as a puppy, dangerous as a rabid.

Water’s laid back academic belies the below-the-surface sense of guilt and shame that has shadowed him since Susie’s disappearance.

Eliza McLean’s simple set of transparent screens serves as stylistic metaphor for the thinly veiled veneer of ‘everything is fine’ and allows for smooth scene changes.

A bold and emphatic production of a very polished play, CRUSHED is a provocative and poignant entertainment that sets the bar high for The Spare Room’s second season. Kudos to Chester Productions and New Theatre.

Lucinda Gleeson’s production of Melita Rowston's CRUSHED opened at the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown on Friday 18th May and runs until Saturday 9th June, 2012.

© Richard Cotter 20th May, 2012

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