Thursday, 5 September 2013

Home at the End, Everyman Theatre, Courtyard Studio

Is Everyman the best amateur company in Canberra? Hell, are they the best theatre company in Canberra, full stop? Certainly, they're my favourite company - their only drawback is that they sometimes take longish hiatuses between productions (it's been 9 months since last year's "Rent"). But on the level of pure theatrical craft, presenting fascinating stories with visual and verbal skill, utilising every inch of the Courtyard Studio stage like masters, they are tough to beat.

"Home at the End" is the latest work from the-Everyman-who-writes, Duncan Ley. It's a play about stories and traumas, a more personal narrative after the wider political concerns of "The Ides of March", asking questions about how a moment of moral failure haunts a man. Structurally, there's three narrative threads going on. Act one varies between Joe (Isaac Reilly), a writer who's finishing off his new novel about his Nazi grandfather while settling into a new house with his wife Andie (Helen McFarlane) and daughter Molly (presented as a puppet, operated and voiced by Amy Dunham); and a tramp in a fishing shack (Duncan Driver), who's telling stories to Andie and Molly as they shelter from a storm. Act two deals with Joe in the wake of a shocking event, delving through his surreal experiences of the systems built to help him and hinder him (medical, police and media) as he tumbles through grief. 

There's a lot of elements to juggle and ... I'm not entirely sure all of them are vitally necessary (in particular, the prologue featuring the Nazi grandfather feels un-necessary, and is also by some margin the weakest-acted-and-written portion of the play - the only reason it seems to exist is so we get a sense of Joe as a writer ... but it doesn't present him as a good or interesting writer). But it's Ley's most completely theatrical script (earlier plays like "Ides" and "In Cold Light", for instance, would probably work just as well on film or TV), able to snap between genres, to flow between surrealism and stark realism, and to give full reign for a skilled company of performers and a director to show their talents.

Which Jarrad West siezes with both hands - his production is a triumph of design, movement, pacing, lighting ... completely engaged in whichever genre the script happens to be in at the time. It's not every director who could navigate the streams of act two, where the surrealistic comedy of the police scene, for example, bashes up against the strong solid realism as Joe works with his counsellor (Jordan Best). West manages this with aplomb, getting every laugh out of the first and drawing us into the painful emotional territory of the second. 

The cast is, of course, excellent. Helen McFarlane as the only character who appears in all three threads of the story is goddamn extraordinary - sexy as a lover, loving kindness as a mother, and sharply acerbic as Joe's nightmare of guilt - and even gets to show off a great bluesy singing voice and eye-catching dance moves. Isaac Reilly's been off Canberra stages for five years, and I hope he's not offstage for a second longer - he's ridiculously capable physically, verbally and intellectually, and gives generously of all three in this. Duncan ("mr sexyvoice") Driver gets a chance to be funny, eccentric, strange and resonant in his role as the tramp, creating someone quite special and intriguing. Amy Dunham's vocal work and puppet-manipuation as Molly creates a real, questioning, intriguing six year old. 

The remainder of the ensemble is also excellent throughout the production. If I cherry pick, Jordan Best's performance of the counsellor is touching and strong and brave and a reminder that I haven't seen her onstage in way too many years - she's a skilled director but she's also a skilled actor and I need to see her more often. Will Huang's various cameos are eyecatching in the best of ways -we knew from Corny Collins he could do a game show host, but who knew he could be so touching as Lorenzo (mimed, even), so goofy as a policeman, so inscrutable as a doctor? Alice Ferguson's mournful physicality in the tale of Bella Autaunte, Laura Dawson's sharp agent ... there are so many highlights ... but the show's still running, so why not go see it rather than read me inadequately describe how good this is. 

Because, make no mistake, this is great stuff. It's a theatrical banquet, rich and tart and tangy and surprising. Get going.

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