Inner Voices

Old Fitz Theatre, June 17

Damien Strouthos in INNER VOICES (c) Ross Waldron

Damien Strouthos as Ivan. Photo: Ross Waldron

Written in 1977, Inner Voices was one of Louis Nowra’s earliest plays and signalled the arrival of an Australian playwright with an exciting imaginative scope and a keen sense of theatre.

The play premiered at Nimrod directed by John Bell with a cast including Tony Sheldon, Robert Alexander and Jane Harders. It hasn’t been staged professionally in Sydney again until now, presented at the Old Fitz Theatre by Don’t Look Now in association with Red Line Productions.

It’s fascinating to see the play in the light of Nowra’s The Golden Age, written in 1985, which was staged earlier this year by Sydney Theatre Company. While The Golden Age is a more expansive, ambitious play, the seeds of Nowra’s brilliantly roving theatricality are already evident in Inner Voices: a play bursting with ideas and savage wit.

Inner Voices is inspired by the life of Ivan VI, who was born in 1740. At just two months old he was proclaimed Emperor and his mother named Regent. However, a year later a distant cousin seized the throne and Ivan and his family were imprisoned. Kept in isolation for around 20 years, which impacted on his mental health, a group of officers led by Vasily Mirovich plotted to free Ivan in 1764 and put him on the throne, ousting the ailing Catherine the Great. However, Ivan was killed by his guards. Nowra takes these basics but imagines what would have happened had Mirovich been successful.

The play begins in Ivan’s cell where isolation has taken a severe toll.  Unable to talk other than to chant his own name, he appears to be “an idiot”. The rapaciously ambitious Mirovich – a man with a gargantuan appetite for food as well as power – believes that Ivan will be easily manipulated once they get him on the throne, but things don’t go to plan, with Ivan quickly turning tyrant.

Phil Rouse directs a wonderful muscular production with first-rate production values. Anna Gardiner’s dungeon-like set with ladders and metal rails, Martelle Hunt’s period-inspired costuming, Sian James-Holland’s sickly lighting and Katelyn Shaw’s nerve-jangling sound design combine to create a dark, threatening environment.

Damien Strouthos is superb as Ivan, changing the way he holds his mouth to alter the sound as Ivan’s ear adjusts to human voices and he gradually learns to speak, and also evolving the character’s body language. It’s a minutely observed performance physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Julian Garner and Anthony Gooley in INNER VOICES (c) Ross Waldron

Julian Garner as Leo and Anthony Gooley as Mirovich. Photo: Ross Waldron

Anthony Gooley is extremely funny yet still menacing as Mirovich, a grotesquely comic character in an ever-expanding fat suit. The rest of the cast are all on-point: Julian Garner as Mirovich’s unfortunate co-conspirator, Annie Byron as Mirovich’s long-suffering, genial servant, Emily Goddard as the fake Princess Ali and Baby Face, the showgirl who becomes Ivan’s chosen lady, along with Francesca Savige and Nicholas Papademetriou in supporting roles.

Examining power and its abuse, as well as the psychological and emotional impact of isolation on people, Inner Voices is a darkly funny, provocative play given a very meaty, satisfying production.

Inner Voices plays at the Old Fitz Theatre until July 9. Bookings: oldfitztheatre.com

Advertisements

The Way Things Work

Bondi Pavilion, November 11

Ashley Lyons and nicholas Papademetriou. Photo: Zak Kaczmarek

Ashley Lyons and nicholas Papademetriou. Photo: Zak Kaczmarek

For his final production as artistic director of Rock Surfers Theatre Company, Leland Kean is directing a new Australian play by Aidan Fennessy called The Way Things Work, which won the inaugural Rock Surfers/Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ) Playwriting Commission.

A dark satire about corruption in NSW, from the highest level down to the criminal underbelly, Fennessy won’t have needed to look far for inspiration with the newspapers full of corruption allegations on both sides of NSW politics and elsewhere in the private sector.

Investigative journalist Kate McClymont was a guest on opening night and in a short speech afterwards confirmed that the fiction on stage wasn’t that far removed from reality.

The Way Things Work unfolds in three sections with two actors playing three sets of characters.

The play opens with Minister Barlow (Nicholas Papademetriou) feeling the heat. The Minister (who surname has lent itself to umpteen scathing headlines) has overseen the construction of a multi-million dollar East-West road tunnel, funded by a public-private partnership. He has brought it in on time and on budget. The trouble is, it’s already beginning to crumble because it was built using ordinary concrete not the required “special concrete” and will eventually cost taxpayers vastly more to repair than it did to build.

The project is now the subject of a Royal Commission and the Minister is keen that certain behind-the-scenes deals are not revealed. He calls his departmental secretary (Ashley Lyons), a senior public servant, in for a meeting and puts pressure on him to “forget” a certain name.

In the second section, we meet the two Greek-Australian brothers whose company supplied the concrete and who are engaged in a power struggle of their own as their company is about to be bought out by a major media conglomerate.

The third section features a prison warden (Papademetriou) and a prisoner (Lyons) who have forged a close relationship over many years. The warden has just enlisted the prisoner as a hit man to prevent another of the inmates testifying at the commission, but there is more bubbling away beneath the surface.

Kean, who designed the set as well as directing, stages the play in a concrete box, which changes under Luiz Pampolha’s noir-ish lighting but which lends the piece a consistently tangible feeling of brutality, ruthlessness and claustrophobia, heightened by Jed Silver’s sound.

On opening night Papademetriou rather overplayed the Minister so that the character verged on the cartoonish, undercutting any genuine sense of reality. Some of the dialogue he was given also stretched credibility a little.

But Papademetriou settled down in the next two scenes with two far more potent, believable characterisations and as the play progressed the tension built nicely.

Lyons gives a chameleon-like performance, morphing convincingly from the anxious public servant determined not to compromise his integrity, to the cocky, blinged-up brother, to the prisoner whose sense of betrayal is surprisingly touching.

Running a tight 100-minutes, Kean keeps the action taut, driven by a macho energy. After a somewhat shaky start, The Way Things Work becomes a darkly funny, entertaining play that will certainly resonate with Sydneysiders.

The Way Things Work plays at Bondi Pavilion until November 29. Bookings: www.rocksurfers.org or 1300 241 167