Review By Lee Sarich
Talia, Erica and Robbi of Rogue Projects welcome audiences back to Eliza St Newtown with this insightfully uplifting debut play from Madeleine Withington - Wil & Grace.
Suz Mawer erupts on stage with a breakneck pace and enlivening energy as Varya, housemate, irritator and friend to Grace in their shared Petersham house. She creates a synergy in the opening scene between herself, Grace and the audience that permeates the entire play. Snappy invigorating dialogue has us celebrating with them as they drink and dance into euphoric oblivion, pausing briefly to summon the dead.
Enter Joshua Shediak, as Wil, lost and confused English backpacker connivingly reinvented as The Bard himself. Possibility and coincidence collide flawlessly with impeccable timing to catapult us forward into this new world of the impossible realised. Introspecting, playful, and terrified, Wil does his best to keep up with his new circumstances and identity. There’s moments of farcical hilarity and genuine tenderness as from playing along Wil finds himself actually becoming a more refined version of himself complete with his newly expanded vocabulary and adherence to iambic pentameter.
Madeleine Withington as Grace starts with a reticent poise that makes her latter divergent gushings all the more engaging. Inspiring breath catching wonder with mile a minute stream of conscious expounding of joy and excitement, Grace sets in motion all that’s required for Wil’s improbable manifestation.
It’s lighthearted and fun when we think Varya and Wil are working together to indulge in Grace’s harmless fantasy. More serious tones are adopted as Grace reveals her efforts to create and hold onto the fantastic might be driven by an untenable reality.
Now it appears Varya, Wil and Grace each have their own reasons for maintaining the deception which speaks to the reluctance we all experience of facing our demons. It’s a masterfully fine balance between the self depreciating jabs with plenty of laughs at the circumstances that arise from our efforts in denial, to the irrevocable consequences of crises unmet. The balance walked by each character leaves them inevitably facing themselves and each other as they really are. There’s a moment when Grace recognises her own absurdity, an acknowledgment to the lure of crazy-making grief, and a way out with compassionate integration. It allows us a sigh of relief as we’re back in a world where we can laugh at the lengths we all go to in seeking solace.
Production designer Anna Gardiner creates a detailed depth of set allowing the characters to roam with a comfortable freedom found in the living rooms of Petersham.
Varya constantly surprises with a new look for each new job and there’s several, all revealing yet another facet to this thoroughly enjoyable character.
Sensitive application of sound by Chrysoulla Markoulli enhances the scenes with the subtlety of becoming aware of having been heard for some time.
Jasmin Borsovszky provides the lighting, creating light and shadow, focus and obscurity highlighting onstage and internal shifts.
Pulled together and sharpened by Director Erica Lovell, it’s a tight and enjoyable story. Grace leaves us hopeful we can face our grief with courage and dignity, and where that’s not possible, we know the secret for summoning up our best dead idols.
I look forward to more work by Madeleine Withington and the next Rogue Project supporting emerging Sydney creatives.
Image Credit: Noni Carroll