Sepia is the kind of play you grow to appreciate the more you think about it afterwards. The premise – a play about cuttlefish – doesn’t exactly sound enthralling. However, it isn’t really a play about cuttlefish, so much as a family drama that uses the cuttlefish as a device to drive the story. Chances are that Sepia is nothing like you expect; watching it feels like stumbling across a pleasant surprise.
Welsh-born, Adelaide-based playwright Emily Steel has done an excellent job of crafting a story out of current, ongoing events. The strong family themes lend a sense of timelessness to the play, but the greatest joy is from seeing a (good!) play with such contemporary themes and local relevance. Finally, a timely piece of theatre in Adelaide! It's a nice change from "modern" plays that were cutting-edge and new ten years ago when they premiered in London.
Sepia is an engaging story about a mother, father and son who own a caravan park in Whyalla. Sepia manages to be both simple and complex at the same time – the single set, small cast and succinct hour-long duration belie deeper themes and subtext. Despite the potentially political nature of the subject matter, it avoids becoming preachy or taking sides. Sepia’s dedication to balance is an unusual and effective approach for a work of theatre. Whereas more incendiary plays tell the audience what to think, Sepia just lets the audience think for themselves.
Holly Myers as Emma, Rory Walker as Neil and Matthew Gregan as Matt are all wonderful to watch, performing their parts with multi-layered complexity to match the play. Gregan was particularly memorable as the son who seems to strike the balance between his parents, and between the conflicting themes in the story. Gregan seamlessly switches from responsible young man to surly teenager, cleverly depicting the difference while still retaining the character’s core personality.
The set design uses the space within the RiAus well, with the props nicely helping the audience’s mind to fill in the rest. The technical design incorporates film footage of cuttlefish in a way that’s interesting without being distracting. The main downside to the production is a beginning that feels a little awkward. I can’t quite decide whether to put that down to the performances, directing or script. However, it quickly eases into itself and the initial stiffness is soon forgotten.
Steel’s immense talent as a playwright is obvious, while emerging director Nescha Jelk’s achievement in tying it all together is enviable. Sepia is a play of understated brilliance.
Venue: The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide.
Season: 1 – 17 March 2012.
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 concession, $15 Fringe Benefits.
Duration: 1 hour.
Bookings: Fringetix via 1300 FRINGE, outlets or online.