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Review: Small Mouth Sounds at the Eternity Playhouse

By Carly Fisher

Right off the bat, one has to appreciate that this was an ambitious work for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company to take on, with an audience response that was sure to be mixed. Whilst their hardcore theatre-going audience may revel at the opportunity to finally see Bess Wohl’s work, which has already been widely praised internationally, a majority audience may find the concept of a predominately silent theatre experience too unusual to engage with. The reality is that this production sits squarely in the middle, offering a unique opportunity for audiences to explore the concept of alternative theatre but through the safety of a mainstage theatre production in a mainstream theatre company.

With that comes considerable benefits that the production has used diligently to its advantage. Small Mouth Sounds features a supreme cast, many of whom will be Sydney-theatre-goer favourites, including Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip, Yalin Ozucelik, Dorje Swallon, Jane Phegan and Justin Smith. The access to a particularly successful design team has also proved immensely beneficial to this production. Tegan Nicholls’ sound design, captured mostly from organic natural sounds in Sydney’s Blue Mountains, is authentic, understated and yet important in its positioning of both the serenity of the environment and also of the new Australian location of the play. Jeremy Allen’s set, though more literal, is perfectly effective, reminding us consistently that we are within the confines of a retreat, inclusive of a Japanese-inspired sliding door, access to lush grounds, and more.

Wohl’s script follows the six characters, plus the omnipresent guru that leads the seminars, through the week long silent retreat. The guru, on opening night voiced perfectly and hilariously by director Jo Turner, provides those needed moments of text to continue to guide us, as an audience, through the narrative, but also the characters through their journey. The only other dialogue comes in one monologue – the classic overshare at a therapy type session but the perfect addition to the show none-the-less – performed by Ozucelik, and the occasional ‘mistake’ when the character resorts to speech accidentally, reminding us all how hard silence for a whole week may be!

For the most part, we don’t miss the dialogue as much as I thought we might. My initial apprehensions of the piece were unfounded – irrespective of whether or not you love every minute, this is an interesting piece of theatre that I was definitely glad to see.

That said, the show does run too long – whether it is Wohl or Turner or a combination of both that needed to shorten their work to make it flow and keep the comedy high, ultimately, just after an hour, the work did drag. This could be largely due to the build up that we could see coming physically before each of the jokes, which does get repetitive, or because of the highly outdated scene change style of floating chairs performing their own routine in a blue light. Whatever it was, I wish it had finished a bit sooner so that I could solely sing its praises.

Because the truth is, it may not have been 100% my style of theatre, but that matters little. My week was certainly enhanced by my exposure to something new and different and I think that the Sydney theatre scene is missing this kind of work – work that is unafraid to push the boundaries and test us as theatre goers.

Wohl’s work has significant achievements. This is a human story so understandable to everyone due to the power of the physical language – this is was a feature that I loved. We laughed in unison as an audience, much like we lamented the loss some of the characters have experienced together. We did this with no words, just the language of the actor’s bodies speaking physical truths that we all inherently understood because this is a language we all have an equal command of. There was something deeply refreshing about this experience that I was grateful that this show brought to light.

This show won’t appeal to all audiences from the get-go but for those that take the leap and are willing to try out something different, the experience is surely worth it.

Photo Credit: Robert Catto

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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