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Review: Sweet Phoebe at Red Stitch

By Yona Eagle

It was with great interest that I attended Red Stitch Actors Theatre production of Michael Gow’s Sweet phoebe directed by Mark Wilson.

I had never seen a production of this play - Gow received the NSW Premier’s prize for this play in 1994 - 8 years after receiving the same award for Away.

The play debuted that year at Sydney Theatre Company and starred Cate Blanchett and it was in this play the year after she made her first stage performance in London.

The play centres around a yuppy couple - Helen -played by Olivia Monticciolo - in wonderful red patent stilletos- informing the audience immediately we are in the 1990’s a la carrie Bradshaw and her intense husband Frazer - played by Marcus Mckenzie.

They are also so DINK’s - do we still use this acronym- double income no kids - and are deeply entrenched in their careers - Helen is an interior designer - deeply into minimalist decoration - mirrored in the black granite set by Laura Jean Hawkins - reminiscent of granite kitchens that became the vogue in the late 1990’s.

Frazer is a slick advertising exec who can’t stand up to his boss- what other vocation could be more appropriate for the times?

Their lovemaking for recreation rather than procreation is interrupted by a phone call. Helen has to get up to answer a landline- I wonder if the younger members of the audience even remember those- an ode back to the times before mobiles.

It is their best friends who have an opportunity to attend a psychological workshop for a few days that their relationship badly needs but they require their dog Phoebe to be babysat. Helen agrees without consulting Frazer who ultimately acquiesces as we learn that our intense couple have already undertaken said workshop and have eliminated all conflict from their relationship and lives. But have they really learnt life skills?

Phoebe arrives and the couple are besotted!! Maternal + paternal instincts obviously simmering under the surface explode. Then Phoebe goes missing. What Gow then shows us is the unravelling of our couples perfect lives.

We know we are firmly based in Sydney as Helen and Frazer race all over town responding to dog sightings to suburbs well out of their comfort zone meeting people in situations they never could have imagined. Helen’s search becomes one of personal emotional growth whilst Frazer begins an affair and implodes at work.

There is no good resolution for our couple as we watch them spiral to destruction. On walking out of the theatre I heard a group of Millennials discuss the play stating they felt little empathy for the couple as they are in crisis. So herein lies the problem in our society and highlights the relevance of this short two-hander to today’s times.

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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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