By Carly Fisher
The Ensemble’s latest production Folk is, put simply, exactly what people expect from The Ensemble and in a year where it seemed as though they were edging towards new boundaries to push, this seems to be the safe card for their audiences in the 2019 season line up.
As individual elements, little can be faulted. Genevieve Lemon is sublime and many a Sydney theatre-goer will, rightly so, attend Folk just to see her back on the stage and they would be wise to do so. Her command of the ability to switch between comedy and drama so quickly and effortlessly is a testament to her supreme talent and experience. Lemon is a perfect casting decision for this play and I wouldn’t be surprised if her coming on board was a major contributing factor to the decision to stage it – she is the show.
Lemon takes on the role of Sister Winnie, a folk-music-loving, Guinness-drinking, smoke-needing, nun who may be on the feisty side of those in her profession but still clearly exudes a pure and forgiving heart. Joining her every week for a sing and a bit of a play is the socially awkward Stephen (Gerard Carroll), a loyal and devoted friend who is still hopelessly trying to find his own feet and identity.
Their weekly sing-a-long is interrupted, shattered even, by a brick flying through Sister Winnie’s window. As she confronts the perpetrator, she realizes she recognizes the young girl, Kayleigh (Libby Asciak) from junior programmes she has been a part of and rather than demanding retribution, and much to Stephen’s horror, Winnie invites Kayleigh in for a cup of tea and a chat. We learn of Kayleigh’s own struggles through this and, as the evening progresses, she is invited to, again to Stephen’s horror, become a regular attendee at their weekly music sessions.
Taking on themes of illness, teen pregnancy, unemployment, lost opportunities and death, Tom Wells has certainly crammed a lot into his 90 minute play, including, much to the audience’s delight, songs throughout.
The set, designed by Hugh O’Connor is a brilliant use of the Ensemble space utilizing the stage’s height and depth to its maximum potential. The set dressing too must be complimented – it felt authentic and was expertly tasteful in the amount of religion displayed, and socio-economic status suggested.
Accent coach Amy Hume has clearly watched over rehearsals with a skillful ear as few to no lines presented by any of the actors dropped the thick accents throughout – even through song. As far as authenticity, this was critical and the time invested into the perfection of the accent certainly paid off.
For a show and for performances that really had proven widely authentic until this point, I was very disappointed to hear more than half way through the play that the character of Kayleigh was in fact fifteen. This is not a comment on Asciak’s acting in general as she delivers a lovely performance through this production and offers a very sweet and melodic interpretation of all the Folk songs her character sings. Her ability aside, it was impossible to believe she was fifteen and the authenticity and truthfulness of the play became questionable for me. Adding further questions was the overall sense of time in the piece – it was difficult to quite gauge how much time spanned from the brick coming through the window to the end, in the world of the play.
And with this loss of belief, I must admit, I then lost interest. It is hard to keep a deep engagement in a play with few to no characters you feel you can relate to and too many questions left unanswered.
As mentioned, each individual element here was executed well – the production itself is high quality and for those looking for a play with music or for a chance to see Genevieve Lemon, I definitely recommend this show.
But ultimately, for me, this show falls flat in amongst all the theatre hype in Sydney right now. This show was The Ensemble theatre playing it safe and I am positive that their subscribers will thoroughly enjoy the production due to the high quality of creativity displayed. However, I don’t think that this will be the show to attract new audiences to the theatre, particularly not younger crowds that may have followed back after The Last Five Years or the very successful Appleton Ladies Potato Race.
In summary, it is a good version but of the same thing.
Photo Credit: PHIL ERBACHER
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.