Belvoir St Theatre, March 1
Hating and vengeance are choices. Nothing, however heinous, obliges one to hate. Mary-Ellen Field had every right to be twisted and embittered. Having been accused of leaking Elle Macpherson’s private life to the British tabloid press she watched her health crash, her career unravel and her reputation sink. Even when it emerged that the culprits were those diligent boys and girls behind the phone-hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World she received not so much as an apology from MacPherson and was further hounded by News International.
But rather than hating her way to an early grave Field chose another path. She donated a kidney to the desperately sick ABC radio journalist Mark Colvin, who had interviewed her about the phone-hacking scandal.
Out of this sprawling story Tommy Murphy has created a play as tight as a drum. It seethes with conflicting emotions, yet never develops the slightest hint of suds frothing at its edges.
Sarah Peirse and John Howard breathe warmth and complexity into Field and Colvin, masking their fears, vulnerabilities and blind fury behind walls of strength, humour and stoicism. When those walls do crack Murphy strips his characters of their articulateness, and makes us suffer what is left unsaid.
Director David Berthold has cast and staged the play with loving care, and several of the 26 roles played by Peter Carroll, Christopher Stollery, Kit Esuruoso and Helen Thompson are brought to vivid life by a combination of exceptional acting and Murphy’s flair for short-hand establishment of character. Carroll’s non-verbal acting is peerless, especially as Field’s bewildered husband, Bruce, and Stollery lathers charm upon Professor Zoltan Endre, the surgeon. Thompson’s MacPherson is the only character to seem somewhat reduced on stage rather than amplified.
Speaking of amplification Nat Edmondson’s score blasted the scene transitions at unnecessary volume. But that could not deafen us to what Murphy’s exceptional play, written with the cooperation of Field and Colvin, shouts about compassion and a courage that transcends the need for enemies.
Until April 2, then Parramatta Riverside April 5-8.