Fury

Sydney Theatre Company

Known for writing plays that voice the concerns, dramas and ideologies of educated, articulate, middle class protagonists, Joanna Murray-Smith is one of Australia’s most successful playwrights, embraced by audiences but frequently dividing critics.

Her new play Fury, commissioned by Sydney Theatre Company, is set in the comfortable, inner-city home of a liberal, professional family. Alice (Sarah Peirse) is a highly successful neuroscientist who is about to receive a prestigious humanitarian award. Her husband Patrick (Robert Menzies) is a moderately successful novelist.

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Harry Greenwood and Sarah Peirse. Photo: Lisa Tomasetti

The play opens with a well-researched student journalist (Geraldine Hakewill) interviewing Alice and then Patrick for a personal profile about Alice: an obvious device (which Murray-Smith also used in her play Honour) that allows the characters to articulate thoughts they wouldn’t in ordinary conversation.

A teacher (Tahki Saul) then arrives to inform them that their only son Joe (Harry Greenwood) has been caught with a high school friend putting graffiti on a local mosque. From here the play unfolds to reveal a secret that will undo the family.

Fury is very much a play of ideas set once again in a familiar, middle class milieu. It’s wordy but engrossing. The writing is heightened, sharp, intelligent and witty. The ideas are provocative and eloquently expressed.

In one scene the parents (Claire Jones and Yure Covich) of the other boy – who come from a more working class background and could not have afforded to send their son to the same school were it not for a sporting scholarship – visit Alice and Patrick to discuss with the mosque incident.

The father states clearly and unapologetically his views on the situation, from Muslims living in Australia to parenting today. Again, it’s a way to discuss ideas but to my mind Murray-Smith avoids making it all-too-obvious debate by creating characters that extend beyond stereotypical mouthpieces. Terrific performances by Covich and Jones definitely help.

Andrew Upton directs a tight, absorbing production, drawing detailed, layered performances from a strong cast. Peirse in particular is compelling as Alice, moving from easy, authoritative, self-assurance to unravelling doubt and vulnerability, while Greenwood makes a very impressive professional stage debut as the troubled Joe.

David Fleischer’s open set with concrete walls and polished marble floor is a cold, brutal, elegantly contemporary space that suits the emotional world of the play though it doesn’t feel like the book-filled home of arty intellectuals.

The plot of Fury does feel slightly contrived to embody the debate it dramatises and Joe’s act is never fully explained. Nonetheless, it’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking play embracing themes including race relations, radicalism, intergenerational conflict, gender, and the anger and anxiety in today’s isolating society.

The foyer on opening night was buzzing with people discussing what they had just seen.

Sydney Theatre Company, Wharf 1 until June 8

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