Review by Carly Fisher
Squabbalogic is back and after an unexpectedly extended hiatus, it is great to see them once again take to the Seymour Centre stage. The support for their return from the opening night audience was undeniable and it was great to see them tackling a challenge such as an adaptation for their first back show out of the gate.
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever was written for Broadway and adapted into a cult favourite film starring Barbra Streisand. With hypnotism as its central plot device, it is, for a musical, unquestionably quirky. In an effort to quit nicotine, David/Daisy Gamble (played by Jay James-Moody) enlists the services of psychiatrist and hypnosis researcher, Dr Mark Bruckner. F (performed by Blake Bowden). Though it begins as an innocent experiment in regression therapy, it quickly takes on an ‘other-worldly’ plot as through the hypnotised/unconscious David, Dr Bruckner meets Melinda, a woman who had died a century earlier. Calling into question everything that Bruckner (and the audience) believes about the afterlife, former lives, reincarnation and more, the relationship between David/Daisy/Melinda and Mark develops.
Whilst the quirkiness of the script can be navigated, it is hard to watch this show at times through the lenses of a 2023 audience member. The plot is problematic to say the least - there are all kinds of issues of lack of consent that prevail through the show.
What is not at all hard to watch is the supreme talent on the Reginald stage before you. James-Moody is a skilled performer and despite his extensive career credits, I do question why we have not seen him even more on our big stages - he is an exceptional character actor with a great voice who gives an extremely solid performance in the gender-bent lead role of David/Daisy.
Equally talented, Blake Bowden is perfect choice for the role of Dr Bruckner, proving to have both the singing and acting chops required to pull off this role. That Bowden could make us, as the audience, like such an unlikeable character is credit to his skill and refined performance.
Rounding out the leads, Madeleine Jones as Melinda is excellent. Jones is one of those performers that you will buy a ticket to see irrespective of the show. She is graceful in her command of the stage, clever in her characterisation and has a voice smooth as butter. To all theatre companies in Sydney, we want to see more more more of Madeleine Jones please.
You’d be hard pressed to find a stronger ensemble than one that features Natalie Abbott, Lincoln Elliott, James Haxby and Billie Palin with particular focus on Abbott and Palin who have proved themselves stand outs of the Sydney musical scene across a variety of stages in the last couple of years. Having seen what they could do elsewhere (you’ll know Natalie Abbott from Muriel’s Wedding and The Lovers and Billie Palin from the Hayes’ production of Godspell), I found it slightly frustrating watching them stuck in these rather limited roles but whenever they were given even just a small chance to show off their talents, boy did they prove just how good they are!
Michael Hankin’s set is a crucial part of the show and though simplistic in its outlay, it is beautifully executed with expert attention to detail by Bella Rose Saltern who brought Hankin’s vision to life. There are elements, namely the flowers, that are fabulously done and the costuming, whilst non-specific in its temporal accuracies, is fun, vibrant and well executed. The unconventional exits and entrances however are jarring simply because of the height restrictions of the structure of the set. Unfortunately, because of these awkward comings and goings, many of the transitions were interrupted too, affecting the overall flow of the work. The fluidity of the set pieces is clever and makes for a largely functional set.
I must admit, I am not usually a huge fan of seeing Directors also jump in on the action by casting themselves in one of the roles. Perhaps in a minor role but in a lead, as is the case with Jay James-Moody who takes on the lead character, Director and Adapter roles, I feel that an extra set of eyes is often needed to confirm a number of things, the pace particularly. It is very hard, when in the middle of the scene, to objectively note whether the scene is racing ahead or crawling behind. The second half of Act 1 unfortunately fell victim to this common problem - without that set of outside eyes, the pace suffered and scenes that could have been snappier, read as slightly self indulgent at times. Luckily Act 2 picked right back up again.
With that one critique aside, it would be hard to fault James-Moody’s direction otherwise. What an incredibly talented theatre maker!
Natalya Aynsley’s musical direction is haunting - the use of repetition inspired and the execution of all pieces flawless. Congratulations to her and the musicians.
Choreography by Leslie Bell rounds out the production perfectly with a love triangle dance being one of the highlights of the clever choreo. Working around this notion of 3 loves, 2 bodies, Bell has masterfully given some superb numbers throughout this show.
With all said and done, it would be hard to tell you whether or not I liked this particular show - if it were down to the performances alone, I would tell you to sprint to get a ticket because it is rare you will see so many world-class talents on one intimate Sydney stage. Despite the fact that I did not care for the storyline of the show, for me, the talent on stage, backstage and particularly in the adaptation process, is enough to make On a Clear Day You Can See Forever an enjoyable night out.
Image Credit: David Hooley