Monday 11 March 2024

EVERY LOVELY TERRIBLE THING - Theatre Review

WHAT: Every Lovely Terrible Thing
WHEN: 28 - 16 March 2024
WHERE: Theatre Works (Acland St)
WRITTEN BY: Adam Fawcett
DIRECTED BY: Justin Nott
SET BY: Harry Gill
COSTUMES BY: Martelle Hunt
LIGHTING BY: Sidney Younger
PERFORMED BY: Lyall Brooks, Emma Choy, Sharon Davis, Jordan Fraser-Trumble, Megan Jones, and Wil King
SOUND BY: Tom Backhaus
AV BY: Aron Murray
STAGE MANAGED BY: Ashleigh Walwyn

 

Lyall Brooks and Wil King - photo by Pia Johnson

It has been a long time since I have seen an original Australian play with a really classic feel and timbre. I mean the kind of play which resonates with the depth of plays like Summer of The Seventeenth Doll or The One Day of The Year for example. Every Lovely Terrible Thing, written by Adam Fawcet, produced by Lab Kelpie and now showing at Theatre Works sits, rather surprisingly, in that wheelhouse. For those of you with more international leanings, you might want to think of plays like Miss Julie and August: Osage County perhaps to get a sense of this play before going to see it.

This story follows the well-worn concept of a family coming together, usually in a rural setting, and airing all their dirty laundry, reliving childhood trauma and rivalries, and rarely resolving very much at all. Along the way someone tends to die, someone 'comes out', and someone gets drunk and starts a fight. Every Lovely Terrible thing does not stray far from the formula, but the characters are, for the most part, well developed. As well, this play throws in a bunch of post-dramatic affects with varying degrees of success to bring a traditional narrative arc into the 21st century. 

I want to say the coalescence of all of this level of disfunction is beyond reality but, to be honest, the Coleman's are pretty tame compared to the whole lot of crazy in my family tree and, sadly, I don't believe we are that far from 'normal'. I wish I was more shocked by the story lines than I am. Having said that, Every Lovely Terrible Thing has a good dose of troubles for most trauma-addicted theatre goers to indulge themselves in.

The Colemans' reside in a country town. The dad is dead, the mum (Megan Jones) is dating. The son (Lyall Brooks) and daughter (Sharon Davis) are twins - of course! The son (Charles) inherited the local pub and the daughter (Britta) escaped the nest and moved to Sydney but finds herself back in the family home and pregnant. Charles is married to Phoebe (Emma Choy) and they have their own grown-up child, Cooper (Wil King). Cooper is struggling to find their identity outside pre-existing paradigms and is challenged by a range of life lessons which come in the form of the local tradie, Lachie (Jordan Fraser-Trumble). 

Even though the structure and characters are very familiar to us, don't be put off by that. The story is well constructed, and the characters are crafted with depth and complexity which makes Every Lovely Terrible Thing a very satisfying and substantial night of theatre. There is very little which is new in our world, and there are even less old stories told well. Every Lovely Terrible Thing is an old story told very well.

Despite its classic structure and content, Every Lovely Terrible Thing has a range of post-dramatic constructs and also sits comfortably within the genre of queer theatre as well. I don't think all of those contemporary tricks and bits and bobs work or enhance the story, but they also don't detract from it too much, so I guess I am left with 'why the hell not?'

One thing that doesn't work is the appearances of the character Kid Coyote (Fraser-Trumble). This character and the videography (Aron Murray) do not fit the location or the narrative. The concept comes from the video game Red Dead Redemption but nobody plays video games in this play, and the play is set in contemporary Australia, not a post-apocalyptic America. Including this character confuses the narrative. I am guessing it is there to build tension and raise the stakes, comparing family feuding to the level of blood and gore. The play does constantly reference hunting so the idea is fine, but the reference only reads to gamers. 

Coopers little fantasy interludes, on the other hand, are brilliant and flow from the opening scene watching classic movies with his grandmother (Jerrica). The relationship between Jerica and Cooper is one of great love and beauty, and a wonderful counterpoint for Jerrica to the stressful disconnect with her own children. Cooper helps her to look forward with hope to a future whilst Charles and Britta drag her kicking and screaming into a painful past which cannot be forgotten and certainly will never be forgiven.

A recurring theme in Every Lovely Terrible thing is that horror movie staple, the rabbit. The tradition of rabbits in horror stories is long and proud. Why? Because they are cute from a distance, but if you get close they have the eyes of a psychopath and the claws to scratch your eyes out. We also associate them with hunters, being skinned, and as food. It is interesting to note in Fawcett's play the rabbit which keeps appearing is brown and straggly and ugly, whereas the one in Justin Nott's (director) production is pristine and white and cartoonish. Nott's rabbit fits the queer theatre genre better, but I think Fawcett's rabbit is scarier and leads us to the revelations in the play more clearly. 

The acting in Every Lovely Terrible thing is consistently good across the ensemble although Choy needs to develop her ability to project a bit more. I was sitting in the front row and struggling to hear her. King is phenomenal as Cooper, and they have no problem meeting the demands of the central character. 

Most of the play resolves well although a couple of story lines don't earn their ending. There is no hint in act 1 to support Phoebe's choices in act 2 - either in the script or in the direction/acting. It makes that story choice feel gratuitous and as a woman I am tired of theatre making gratuitous choices for female characters. 

Also, there is a whole story line completely undeveloped for Charles. The end of the play is crafted like a movie inferring there will be a sequel, but I don't know if that works in theatre because who knows if the sequel is ever going to materialise or when? More detailed work from the director in act 1 would make this final moment not leave the audience feeling like they are missing out on something big and important. There is a wonderful, corrugated iron shed in the set. We need to be pointed to it more often in act 1.

The set (Harry Gill) is incredibly full and detailed. I rarely say this at Theatre Works, but it might just be a bit too busy. Martelle Hunt's costumes are perfection. I do want to mention if the script calls something a dress, then either the character should wear a dress, or the director should change the word to skirt. Simples! Tom Backhaus' sound was effective if a bit loud.

Sidney Younger's lighting is perfection and I even forgive the gratuitous smoke machine. I always love Younger's work. I have, however, come to the conclusion that lighting lecturers get kickbacks from lighting suppliers on the sale of theatrical haze/smoke. The mind boggles as to how much money is spent on the stuff this century. I know what haze does for film and it is important in that context. It does not have the same efficacy on stage. Many a theatre budget would look a hell of a lot healthier at no loss to the dramaturgy if we just didn't spend that money. In this instance it did detract from the 'river' lighting though because it was more fun watching the laser show up in the grid than watching the ripples on stage.

Every Lovely Terrible Thing is a great piece of text-based theatre written with confidence and depth. Theatre is about telling our stories and revealing the hidden. This play does those things well and the production elements and performances are excellent. This is a play to see and remember as part of the Australian canon.

4.5 Stars


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