By Sasha Meaney
In an intentional riff of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, The Things I Could Never Tell Steven opens to the sound of voicemails being left by concerned loved ones. But then it does what Sondheim couldn’t. The show completely removes the narcissistic protagonist and dedicates its time to the people who love him.
In this one act musical, Steven’s Wife, Mother, Father and Ex Boyfriend take turns to sing about their evolving relationships with Steven. At different stages in this journey they reveal to the audience what they could never tell him, in fear of the consequential truths about themselves and where they stand in their relationship.
It is so extraordinarily refreshing to see a musical about characters who truly care for another person, unselfishly sacrificing their time and love without losing respect for themselves along the way. You can only hope that Steven knows how much he’s cared for. In the character’s individual reflections, the show reaches out beyond the core four and becomes a subtle and thoroughly modern look at growing honest in our relationships and with ourselves. I left the theatre appreciative of the cast, the story and of my own loved ones.
The story is carried by Jye Bryant's music and lyrics, which was clear, bright and witty. At times the repetition of musical themes for each character can feel worn out, but the ability for each actor to tell the story pulls it through. One act is a great length for the show, as it finishes just in time for us to be content in not having met Steven. Much longer and the gimmick would have felt in over drive.
The show is always at a high point when Suzanne Chin flits her way onto the stage as Steven’s fiercely possessive Mother. Her vocal clarity and comedic timing leaves the audience in hysterics as she in film noir fashion sings about wishing the death of his wife, and then later as she tries to massage her neck with a dildo (please just see the show for context). Her certainty in her son is beautifully contrasted with the softly spoken Father subtly played by Tim Martin. His hesitancy in “Three Small Words” a song about generations of men unable to express their feelings felt poignant and well timed.
The full character arcs of the show came from Steven’s Wife and his Ex, played by Julia Hyde and Joey Sheehan respectively. Both actors gently show tender longing for the ever distant Steven, and then also (luckily for us) have chances to exhibit their comedic chops in relatable songs like “Sex with an Ex”and “I’ll Forever Keep A Part of You”.
The venue presented the biggest challenge and success for the performance. The unfortunate irony being it was the same for the production as a whole. When World Bar closed due to the pressures of Sydney’s lockout laws and increasing hostility to nightlife, the show also lost its venue and rehearsal space. That they found a replacement in time to go on for the Mardi Gras festival is a testament to the hard work of Whimsical Productions and the venue, Limelight on Oxford, who together built a stage in the downstairs bar specifically for this performance
The space feels very cabaret style and intimate. In keeping with this vibe the show is at its best when it is in full engagement with its audience. The entire cast has moments like this but without failure each of Suzanne Chin’s performances shine so brightly because of her continual engagement with us and the space. Moments between characters at the bar, the use of the stairs, and interaction with the audience felt like an acknowledgment that we were here, never fully in black out and essentially a part of the show. As the performance is around us, some lyrics are lost which is a shame because, again in what feels allusively Sondheim, they are juicy, wordy and very funny.
It is fantastic to see an original Australian musical deeply engaging with questions of honesty, and to see a diverse cast and crew who have persevered through the shows journey in this difficult time for Sydney’s cultural scene.
Whimsical Productions' The Things I Could Never Tell Steven runs from the 20th of February to the 2nd of March 2019 at Limelight on Oxford.
Photo Credit: Zaina Ahmed
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.