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Review: Anthem at the Heath Ledger Theatre

Review By Tatum Stafford

There are multiple theatrical works at the Perth Festival every year. Many tackle political, social and gender-related issues – but Anthem is truly one of a kind in its breadth of subject matter, controversial dialogue and incredible company of committed actors.

Written by five writers in collaboration; Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela, the show has had quite a life before reaching this iconic festival. The team of writers were invited by Arts Centre Melbourne to create a brand new work to commemorate the 20th anniversary of a similarly socially conscious play, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?. The catch? The entirety of Anthem is set in and around Melbourne’s train lines.

According to one of Anthem’s creators Andrew Bovell, “The social fabric of our society is weaker than it was 20 years ago. Australia seems like a more divided nation, and the things that divide us seem sharper.” One particular social issue Anthem tackles is national identity, and how our eclectic population can contribute to, rather than take away from, what unites us all as Australians.

One of the most tremendous aspects of this show is its stellar ensemble cast. Throughout the show, the 16 actors give powerful performances as they shift between a range of different Australian tropes. They navigate some particularly difficult source material for the audience, where expletives are second nature and confrontation is the only way to interact with others. The professional handling of these difficult scenes is a testament to the cast’s unity and commitment – as well as a reflection of Susie Dee’s fantastic direction.

Another aspect of this artful show that should be commended is its set. From the elevator pitch, a show set inside or around trains and train stations doesn’t sound like a show with an incredibly inventive set. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to watch the show’s set unfold and transform dynamically throughout the piece – notably, through cleverly organised movement by the cast themselves. The designer Marg Howell should be praised for this fantastic set.

There are a number of controversial scenes, characters and inferences within Anthem. Exploiting and exploring themes such as wage theft, domestic abuse, neglected children and racial discrimination (to name a few), it’s rare that Perth audiences are subject to such powerful and important material. It’s for these reasons that I feel particularly fortunate to witness the Perth premiere of this work, which I believe will be necessary viewing for people across the country in the years to come.

Image Credit: Sarah Walker

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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