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Review: ALTAR at Abbotsford Convent

Review by Stephanie Lee

ALTAR is queer joy and struggle mixed into one beautiful hour-long debut play by Em Tambree. The writing is witty, at times saucy and filled with yearning for the queer utopia we haven’t yet reached. While it is a little didactic at times, I think the writing is charming enough to get away with it.

The story itself follows two people reconnecting at one of their weddings. Sutton, a Christian and passionate science teacher (Evie Korver) has just gotten married and is now wife to Ethan, a man she loves just enough. After becoming estranged to her ‘best gal pal’ Dana, now Dan (Eddie Pattison), she invites them to the wedding and unexpectedly they show up. Most of the play consists of discussions of their past, their wrestling with (or in Sutton’s case denial of) their queerness and their dreams for the future. I don’t want to spoil too much because honestly the beauty in the work is its reveals, flips and witty exchanges. 

Taking place in the Rosina Courtyard at Abbotsford Convent – apparently a place where wedding receptions are actually held – the set is simple consisting of a wedding arch framed nicely in front of two hedges and some white chairs for the ‘guests’ to sit and watch. The courtyard itself is honestly the perfect location for the work, this is truly one of those rare times the work feels fully made for the venue. The outside parameter was used effectively for moments of physical playfulness between the two characters, and the big hall next to the courtyard did give the feeling there could be a hall full of people beside us. 

Sound design (Callum Cheah) worked very practically for this show, adding to how the space worked to create the feeling of being at or outside a wedding. There were moments that beautiful wedding string arrangements played feeding into the set’s aisle look, and then other moments where noise erupted as if coming from inside the hall making it clear we were outside, and the reception was ranging on without us. I thought the inside/outside dichotomy worked well to highlight the reality of the wedding that happened and the underlying yearning for the wedding that never would. 

Less successful was lighting design, which while it didn’t detract from any of the work, it also in my opinion didn’t add anything in the same way sound, costume or set did. Speaking of costumes, both Dan and Sutton’s costumes helped contextualise each character immediately. The tight fitted, long white dress with a long, pearled veil is exactly the type of traditional outfit you would expect Sutton to wear. Meanwhile, the formal black pants and matching vest with a white pleated button up was perfect for Dan. 

Kathryn Yate’s direction of the work made wonderful use of the site itself. I don’t usually like plays that consist of a lot of back-and-fourths, but Yate injected the work with enough movement and playfulness that I was engaged the whole time. Ultimately it also helped that both Evie Korver and Eddie Pattison were electric in their roles. The almost stubborn naivety and subtle fervency Korver brought to Sutton was perfect played against Eddie’s dry-witted, passionately queer Dan. The chemistry between the two characters was magnetic, with both actors also having a brilliant sense of comedic timing. 

ALTAR really is the queer rom-com/dramedy we never got growing up and I hope it gets more seasons across the country. If it hasn’t sold out already, I highly suggest running to grab tickets!

Image Supplied


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