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Directed by Mark Wilson, and running until March 3, the first play of the year for the Red Stitch Theatre Company is Sweet Phoebe, by Michael Gow. It's 25 years since this play first entertained Australian audiences with its analysis of Helen and Frazer's dysfunctional relationship.
Set in the 90s 'modern' world, the young couple is ambitious and supportive of each others' careers until they agree to look after a friend's dog for a week. When the dog goes missing, everything falls apart. The internet has not yet permeated every aspect of their lives and smartphones do not exist to help spread the word about the missing dog, so they place ads in the newspaper and broadcast an announcement over the radio.
What ensues is a "travelogue" of their misadventures around Sydney as they search for 'Sweet Phoebe'. Helen describes in minute detail the people she meets and how they respond to her appearance but she does very little in terms of developing her own character throughout the play. Frazer is an intense character with serious anger issues which are under control at the beginning of the play but take hold as he searches for the lost Phoebe.
The actors, Olivia Monticciolo and Marcus McKenzie, were consistent in their portrayal of these unlikeable characters. The roles gave them an opportunity to express their range - of emotions and talents. One of the highlights of the play for me was when Olivia sang 'Only You'. Her voice is strong and clear as she recounts an episode to her husband.
A dark set with very few props did little to project the sense of 'home' that the characters claimed to feel in their house. The chemistry between Olivia and Marcus did not seem authentic to me, either. There was something about their abrupt conversational style which didn't convince me of their mutual adoration.
The central theme of conflict in this play does not seem to be resolved. Frazer lacks resilience in the face of one or two setbacks (losing the dog and his job) and Helen is, frankly, lacking in a backbone. At the first sign of trouble, these two destroyed both their careers and their marriage. The unanswered question for me is WHY?
Perhaps those with a deeper understanding of Michael Gow's work and his use of metaphors will have a deeper appreciation for this play.
A Question and Answer Session is occurring on Thursday 14 February after the show.
Set & Costume Design Laura Jean Hawkins Lighting Design Lisa Mibus Sound Design Daniel Nixon
Stage Manager Natasha Marich
Assistant Stage Manager Chelsea Maron