By Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu
Sunset Strip is a beautiful new work from the award-winning and acclaimed Australian playwright, Suzie Miller. The show tackles key health issues including breast cancer, dementia and drug-use, wrapped in an accessible, warm and uplifting domestic drama. The performances by each of the actors convey honesty and truth to the matters presented in this enthralling piece. This is not only a testament to each of the cast members acting ability, but also to the direction led by Anthony Skuse, allowing the audience to engage with the drama as it unfolded, which, evidently left me to question some of the “considered-dark(er)” aspects of my life and find a balance knowing there is hope as long as you have unconditional love from family.
The show's main focus revolves around the relationship of 4 characters, beginning with Caroline (played by Eloise Snape), a hotshot lawyer from the big city as she returns home after a bout of chemotherapy. Upon arrival, she meets her sister, Phoebe (played by Emma Jackson), a recovering drug-addict, and mother (who has lost her kids temporarily to DoCS), while caring for her Father (played by Lex Marinos) whose dementia is only alleviated by training his goldfish. Finally, added to the mix is Phoebe’s soon to be husband, Teddy, played by Simon Lyndon who we learn (as the plot thickens) has a secret past with Caroline, later revealed in this endless unfolding dramatic nightmare.
The lighting design by Verity Hampson with the support of soundscape by Benjamin Freeman and Tegan Nichols is a match made in heaven accompaniment to the set design by Emma Vine. The shift of the lighting design between the sun at its peak or in the evening during sunset is quite exquisite and very warm and inviting. The soundscape allowed the audience to believe we had escaped to a remote and secluded holiday area. Finally, the set and simple use of layers allowed the cast to transform the stage to various locations like a holiday-home, the outdoor deck and a lake. Each of these elements add to the illusion of what is, (or left of), Sunset Strip and for me is the epitome of simple yet effective theatre at its finest.
Highlight performances go to all of them but I’d particularly like to mention, Jackson and Marinos. I always gravitated towards Jackson’s presence on stage which she commanded as she embodied the overtly optimistic sister. In hindsight, we realise that this optimism is to overcompensate and mask her drug-use, even on days which should have been celebratory already including her wedding day and when her children returned. And finally, Marinos, who truly needs no introduction, his ability to shift from ‘present’ Father and then to randomly act out in dementia-related episodes is quite thrilling yet uncomfortable to witness. Having experienced people in my own life who have dementia, it did trigger some memories (both pleasant and not) which is the reality of the illness. But it is handled with care and generally resolved through the relationship between Jackson and Marinos. This is again not only a testament to the actors on stage, but a testament to the direction and writing of this enthralling, brave and bold piece.
I highly recommend Sunset Strip. The show is truly remarkable and in my opinion, intricate yet simplistic theatre at its finest, wishing them all the very best on the remains of their tour.