Presented by State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre in association with Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 2 May 2019
It is 1956. Journalist Charmaine Clift and her husband, ex war-correspondent, George Johnston are passionately in love, carving out careers as writers, and moving to the Greek island of Hydra. For ten years, Clift and Johnston raised three children, wrote works which paid little, and carved out a bohemian ex-pat existence, along with friends such as Sidney and Cynthia Nolan.
Award-winning writer Sue Smith has taken this seemingly halcyon existence and placed it at the centre of two troubled lives, and the toxic yet brilliant relationship they formed. Anchoring the story is their elder son Martin Johnston, who narrates whilst floating through the story himself. There is a gentle push-and-pull to this work, like the ocean tides of Hydra itself: writer and writer; love and destruction; creativity and money; life and art. Using some of the words of both Clift and Johnston’s writing, the constant dialogue between their lives and their art, is writ large. Quite simply, it is an outstanding piece of writing.
Bryan Probets gives a powerhouse performance as Johnston, presenting us with the charisma and the self-absorption. Anna McGahan is heart-breaking as Clift, but never lets her become the stereotypical selfless muse. It is clear that her strength carries both of them. Hugh Parker and Tiffany Lyndall-Knight play Vic and Ursula (Sidney and Cynthia Nolan), both strong stage presences. Nathan O’Keefe as Martin delivers the right level of narrative objectivity, whilst still giving us Martin the man. This is a fine piece of ensemble acting, spoiled only by a shouty “pushing-it-too-hard”opening scene, which settled quickly.
Played against an exquisite set by Vilma Mattila, lit with passion and sensitivy by the master, Nigel Levings, and directed with such obvious love by Sam Strong, this is everything theatre should be. It is the sort of work we don’t see enough of in Australia, where we examine our national character through our literary figures and our history.
If you see one play this year, make it this one.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 5: 4.5
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Season: 1st May -19th May
Duration: 100 minutes
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby