Belvoir’s two theatres are a study in contrasts.
Upstairs, The Wolves is a masterclass in motion and explosive energy. In the Downstairs Theatre, meanwhile, Melbourne writer Louris van de Geer’s Tuesday offers a stilled, quiet and softly spoken experience. It’s no less gripping.
This Sydney premiere production had me before a word was spoken. Designer Isabel Hudson’s installation-like arrangement of rows of milk bottles is instantly arresting. The show’s four performers – Duncan Fellows, Frances Duca, Tom Anson Mesker and Bridie McKim – are already in position when the doors open, backs to the wall, looking out, quietly awaiting their moment.
They are in their own worlds to start with: Duca plays a suburban housewife; Fellows is a supermarket manager; Anson Mesker is a tense young loner, and McKim is an eccentric high school truant.
Illuminated in turn (Martin Kinnane’s lighting is subtly excellent), each speaks their unfiltered inner thoughts. They don’t know it yet, but these four people – strangers to each other – are on a collision course.
Van de Geer’s wry humour and powers of observation are immediately striking. This is a dark but surprisingly funny play. Also apparent is her writer’s eye for the poetic in the everyday: in a puddle of spilled fruit juice, for example, or in the cacophony of a supermarket checkout.
A sense of the ominous creeps in early – the feeling that something bad can and must happen – but thanks to the even-weighting of van de Geer’s characters and director Nell Ranney’s near imperceptible building of tension, you can’t completely predict where the lightning bolt will strike.
From start to finish, the staging is painstakingly calibrated (Clare Hennessey’s score plays no small part) and its low-keyed performances are precisely drawn. Fellows is particularly good as the middle manager whose workplace micro-aggressions give him a sense of fulfilment he lacks at home. Duca reveals her impeccably dressed character’s loneliness beautifully. Anson Mesker is a gently chilling presence, while McKim brings youthful brightness to the stage as the rebellious schoolgirl who picks locks with bobby pins.
The first play in this second season of Belvoir’s 25A program sets a high bar.