Staged at the Sydney Opera House in 2017, director Matthew Lutton’s dark and trippy production of Michael Gow’s Away powerfully expands our appreciation of a much-studied modern classic.
Captured on that stage, you can see it again, free, on ABC iView until July 30.
Written in 1986, Away is simultaneously one of Australia’s defining dramatic statements and one of its most beloved stories. Few plays written here, before or since, have managed to blend theatrical inventiveness and popular appeal to quite the same effect.
This Sydney Theatre Company staging also shows how remarkably timeless and plastic the play can be.
Lutton (with help from choreographer Stephanie Lake) opens with a fragmented, fantastical, almost medieval dumb show version of the high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This isn’t the scrappy reality played to a tinny recording of Mendelssohn, however. This is the Dream as experienced by its Puck, Tom (an excellent Liam Nunan). And what a wild Dream it is.
The magic of the theatre is soon challenged, however. Reality crashes the party in the guise of headmaster Roy (Glenn Hazeldine), and Gwen (Heather Mitchell), the eagle-eyed mother of Tom’s co-star and love interest Meg (Naomi Rukavina).
Aided by Paul Jackson’s on-display lighting and composer J. David Franzke’s woozy remixes of 60s party music, Lutton’s production maintains the tension between the fantastical and the prosaic throughout.
Gow’s women shine brilliantly led by Mitchell as the brittle, neurasthenic Gwen. It can be easy to play a comic hand and present her a suburban gorgon but Mitchell’s portrayal is agonisingly truthful.
Natasha Herbert, with that distinctive voice of hers, is superb as Coral and she makes her journey from despair to acceptance and release the most vibrant strand of the play.
Nunan, who was outstanding in the STC’s The Golden Age in 2016, is terrific as the hungry-for-life Tom. There’s fine work also from Marco Chiappi as Gwen’s recessive husband Jim, and from Julia Davis as Tom’s mum Vic.
This is a captivating and very complete production.