Wharf 1 Theatre, January 25


Andrew McFarlane. Photos: Prudence Upton.

It’s as frothy as a full-cream cappuccino and as bright as a pink balloon. Imagine Kath & Kim written by Jane Austen with queer protagonists, and you’re touching on Lewis Treston’s first play for Sydney Theatre Company. It lovingly borrows from and lampoons Austen’s slow-motion love stories, while simultaneously satirising and revering bogan and camp stereotypes. If you could bottle this play and shake it up, you’d be drenched in spray rather than liquid, and yet, to mix my metaphors as shockingly as some Treston character, it has a heart of gold that runs surprisingly deep.

Roman Delo is Elliott Delaney, an ingenue who knows he’s gay, but is confused about whom he fancies, and what to do about it. Then again, he’s short on useful role models in this area. Neither his mother, the Kath-like Bernice (Celia Ireland) nor his sister Paige (Melissa Kahraman) have a strong history of knowing their own sexual preferences, and everyone else he encounters seems to have an agenda lying outside the ridiculously old-fashioned ideal of love.

Andrew McFarlane and Ryan Panizza. Photos Prudence Upton.

Bernice needs her kids to dig her out of a financial hole, and so Elliott leaves Brisbane to “marry the richest, gayest man in Sydney”, and to forget someone he thought he loved. Once in the Emerald City, he lobs with his wealthy, harbourside-dwelling Uncle Roland (Andrew McFarlane), and starts to meet a wider gamut of humanity. In a fruity piece of dramatic irony, he’s suspicious as to why men such as the voracious opera director William (Ryan Panizza) desire him, and we’re in on the secret.

Dean Bryant directs it with a flair for shaking up the fizzy bottle, for sight gags, and for marshalling rampant hamming in the cause of broad humour and ribald entertainment. When the play is at its best, it’s really very funny, with a wit that doesn’t just evoke Austen, but also Noel Coward and even Oscar Wilde. Yet it’s no accident that this is diluted with inanity: Treston must like his comedy that way. Alas, it can wear so thin as to be transparent, and then time can then drag, rather than speeding up, as it should.

Roman Delo and Henrietta Enyonam Amevor. Photos: Prudence Upton.

The trick for the actors is to find some semblance of truth in their zany caricatures; a truth that thickens the brew, and lets us believe them and care about them. In this regard Andrew McFarlane steals the show. Just as there’s a tint of mauve in his grey hair, there’s a tinge of sadness about this world-weary, arts-loving, silk-robe-wearing, ageing homosexual. For all his wealth and battalion of friends, he’s lonely. As well as funny. Treston also spikes moments among his other characters with poignancy, and could have done it more, because that sudden switch from a bawdy giggle to a lump in the throat rejuvenates our capacity to laugh, as well as enriching the experience.

Ryan Panizza and Roman Delo. Photos: Prudence Upton.

Nonetheless, Bryant has cast the piece well, using multiple STC newcomers. Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Mathew Cooper and those previously mentioned all have their share of fun, while Isabel Hudson’s set and costumes delight in Austen-era references and a fondly kitsch Sydney Harbour backdrop.

Amid it all, Treston explores concepts of love with considerable shrewdness. Paige says of her relationship with Juki (Amevor), “We’re chemically dependent on each other,” and yet their affair is fleeting. Whereas when Elliott finds what he’s looking for, it’s more than just sexual attraction. Let me give the last word to Bernice: “Life is a humiliating experience for everyone.” Amen.

Until March 4.