Review: Set Piece at Carriageworks - Sydney Festival

Updated: Jan 10

Review by Kate Gaul


Nat Randall and Anna Breckon, co-creators of the global theatre phenomenon – durational performance “The Second Woman” - join forces once more to critique the conventions of the couple drama and explore the ordinary and extraordinary facets of queer relationships.


‘Set Piece” arrives at Sydney Festival with quite the pedigree. A multi media 4-hander (8 -hander if you count the onstage camera operators) set in traverse in Bay 20, Carriageworks. Directed by Breckon and designed by Genevieve Murrray (of Future Method Studio who also designed “The Second Woman”), it looks like a festival piece. An evening for the connoisseur. We see through open metal-framed walls into a detailed studio apartment complete with bathroom (the toilet is frequently visited), kitchen (where drinks and snacks are meticulously prepared), eating nook and a large bed – almost the centrepiece – atop a stunning white shagpile carpet. Sex toys, empty bottles, drug taking paraphernalia, campy iridescent decorations, Aldi cheese and spilt wine – there is plenty to discover. What cannot immediately be seen is revealed through the incredible camera work from both the roaming steady cam operators and fixed cameras inside the apartment.


An older couple - Maggie (Anni Finsterer) and her partner (Dina Panozzo) – are hosting Holly (Nat Randall) and Nic (Carly Sheppard). Subversive shades of “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” abound but this is a more interesting exploration of intergenerational relationship, desire, fantasy – of the erotic and emotional dynamics between women. Four lesbians hanging out imbibing too much, talking shit, fanaticising a little too much (or not enough) being ordinary. The dialogue is crafted from the everyday, the occasional trashy low-brow or pop reference – it’s nostly commonplace. The entire scenario is played with the illusion of intense naturalism which allows a seamless intersection of theatre and film – we watch moments, gestures, and subtexts emerge in close up and extreme close-up. The audience is drawn tightly into a scene, which is replayed. Lines are swapped, action dances, relationships deepen (or not). Seduction, conflict, ennui – it’s a breathtaking and sometime uncomfortable 90 minutes.


Joan Armatrading’s “Love and affection” has a fitting moment. The heat, raunch and romance from the heart, gut and crotch perfectly echo the work of the four incredible women in the cast. Nat Randall has a mesmerising naivety as Holly. Carly Sheppard thrillingly navigates Nic’s ambiguous intentions. Dina Panozzzo gives a performance rich in subtext (and a dose of salacity!). Anni Finsterer is oak-barrelled bravura as she prowls the stage, every line a ruthless retort.


The team have, yet again, set the standard for what can be achieved outside the theatrical mainstream.

Image Credit: Robert Catto