Presented by Country Arts SA & State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed 7th May, 2021
This is a little gem of theatre. The writing crackles, the acting dazzles, and design is a textbook exemplar of economy, ingenuity and delight. Direction is both elegant and inconspicuous. If you don’t bother to read the rest of this review, please go and see this fine production; it will help to restore your faith in the theatrical medium as a vector for changing lives and illuminating our society.
Four years in the making, this work was commissioned by Country Arts SA as a touring theatre piece for regional South Australia. They ensured its relevance by enabling playwright Emily Steel to travel widely across the state, particularly researching mental health issues and how these issues resonate within smaller, isolated communities. This meant that Steel (writer of 19 Weeks, Impersonal Space, Rabbits, Sepia, and more) talked to a huge cross-section of individuals and groups in country SA. Disclaimer: I spent my childhood and youth in a small northern South Australian country town. So, when I say that Steel’s writing is precise, economic, wry, painfully accurate and guffawingly funny, I know what I’m talking about. Never telling us when she can show us, Steel’s script is stripped down for action, and jet-propels the story to its exquisitely bittersweet conclusion.
This is a simple two-hander play. The actors are Ashton Malcolm as Meg, brightly confident teacher of Year-10s, and James Smith as Ethan Thomas, Shauna’s surly school-leaver lad (no job, not off to uni, can’t be bothered). But don’t let the programme deceive you. These two actors between them conjure up a whole town full of characters. There’s brash Jimmy Morgan, devious son of the well-to-do Morgan clan, weary Shauna Thomas at the Post Office, and practical, taciturn Nick the mechanic. The manageress of the pizza joint/Italian restaurant is all elbows and empathy; the school principal is an endearingly ebullient blunderer. And James Smith’s cameo performance of the archetypal school receptionist is alone worth the price of the ticket. It’s Thornton Wilder’s Our Town on steroids. Vocal work is exceptional, with seemingly effortless clarity. Malcolm and Smith a formidable team, play warp-speed emotional table tennis. And we love it.
This multiple-character structure works because the writing is so good, the actors are highly skilled and capable of nuanced work, and Director Nescha Jelk is clearly psychic. Jelk’s hand is everywhere discernible, but only if you dig for it. Her unassuming style ensures that the story comes first. We are rarely permitted to see the scaffolding of the work. She enables her artists (actors, designers, composer) to bring their creative uniqueness to the project. Significant to the success of this performance is consultation from Adan Richards (listed as Mental Health Professional). Avoiding both caricature and wince-worthy earnestness, Euphoria manages to be both hugely comic and truthful.
Loud plaudits to Meg Wilson for her design work on both costumes and set. Much like the actors themselves, Wilson’s seemingly two-dimensional wall set morphs magically in all directions. It’s a lesson in visionary economy, entertaining us as it enhances the action. Andrew Howard’s sound design works well, and his compositional material is fine until the unfortunately plinky electronic keyboard music near the end of the piece. Lighting by Nic Mollison is of such a high standard that we hardly notice it.
Names recur when reading the biographies of cast, crew and creatives: Adelaide College of the Arts, Flinders University Drama Centre, RUMPUS, Tiny Bricks. Our state should treasure, reward and nurture these cradles of performance creativity at all levels.
Like I said at the start: don’t just read this. Go and see it.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 5
Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 6th – 15th May, 2021
Then on tour to 15 different venues throughout S.A. until 15th June
Duration: 1hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: Prices: $59:00 / $49:00