Woolloomooloo is a harbour side horseshoe shaped inner city suburb of Sydney, historically a working class district with areas of public housing and contrasting recent wealthy residential developments. There is an eclectic mix of people who have diverse and moving life stories that are often shared over a drink at Woolloomooloo’s iconic Old Fitzroy Hotel.
Over several years I have had a glass or two of red wine at the Old Fitzroy Hotel and then walked downstairs to the Old Fitz Theatre where I have loved the variety, innovation and outstanding level of theatre presented by Red Line Productions. The basement theatre space is intimate and coupled with the ambience of the Hotel produces memorable experiences.
One of the frequent Hotel patrons is the local resident, esteemed playwright, author, librettist Louis Nowra. His new play, This Much Is True, his first in a decade, references this location and has its world premiere at the Old Fitz Theatre. What a perfect symbiosis!
This Much Is True, the last in the trilogy, continues the story of Lewis from Summer of the Aliens and Cosi. Lewis, a writer is older now and moves to an inner city suburb where much of the landscape is branded with public housing and inhabited by distinctly underclass and ‘damaged’ characters.
Lewis (Septimus Caton) becomes a regular at the 150 year old hotel, The Rising Sun where once Cass, a treasured frequenter, accepts him he is accepted by all of the locals. Lewis develops significant relationships with a core of the customers.
These customers include Cass (Danny Adcock) the fixer, Malcolm (Alan Dukes) a violent debt collector, Wesley (Ashley Lyons) a manic depressive, Venus (Justin Stewart Cotta) a once famous drag queen, Clarrie (Martin Jacobs) an ice chemist, Rhys (Robin Goldsworthy) a dodgy financier and Gretal (Joanna Downing) the reliable barmaid.
The actors’ performances, personal nuances and perceptive understanding of the characters took the play to another level, theatrical virtuosity.
These fascinating, hilarious and anguished characters abound with versatility, resilience, empathy and loyalty. Nowra has penned a script that brims with humanity.
It celebrates the fragility of life and the daunting determination of people afflicted with overwhelming odds who still excitedly embrace life with all its ups and downs. They take chances and hold relationships dear.
This nucleus of mischievous characters establishes a sense of community, a feeling of belonging that is the pulse of the play.
It is punctuated with hilarious dialogue and uproarious episodes. The warmth and frivolity is contagious and the audience was awash with laughter.
The human foibles and conflicts within the plots of This Much Is True are tempered and blended when Nowra exquisitely explores the relationship between tragedy and comedy.
The dialogue is astute and ingeniously crafts believable people beset by flaws but genuinely warm and triumphantly optimistic.
The discourse imparts the ethos of pain, the agony of survival, the grief of death and the delight of triumph over chaos.
The Director Toby Schmitz and the ensemble of actors have honoured the timing and structure of the play with polished finesse.
Thus the threads of tragedy and comedy within this production are sympathetically and skilfully delivered.
Toby Schmitz has directed the play with a reverence for both place and words. He has researched and analysed with perception unifying all aspects of the production. The action moves seamlessly across the small stage. Rigorous precision and minimalist stage props ensure the fluidity of changing scenes.
Schmitz has delivered the attention to detail that guides standout performances from the company of very fine actors. He has created the right mix of informality and hierarchy amid the Hotel patrons. Mime added a subtle dimension, a timeless strategy managed innovatively and successfully to avoid the clumsy use of glasses and alcohol.
Anna Gardner’s set design established the scene with smoky glass panels, old posters faded, scratched and charred, portable bar and chairs. The theatre space for the Rising Star Hotel became a continuation of the reality space of the Old Fitzroy Hotel. Upstairs and downstairs collided effortlessly.
This flow was reinforced by the buzz of the animated actors as the audience flowed into the theatre. The spontaneous spirited ambiance of the hotel scene was accentuated by Jed Silver’s perfect Sound Design and Matt Cox’s meticulous Lighting Design.
The audience gets “caught up in the lives of the locals” and we are also invited to “look and listen carefully” as the stories, dramas and scenarios are disclosed, unfolded and developed.
So many emotions are revealed as the patrons’ stories unravel and the bonds within relationships are cemented. The emotional graph is notated with hilarity, hysteria and sorrow. Self-depreciation, depression, aggression are interwoven with happiness, enthusiasm and benevolence in a lucid sequential charter. The shifting emotional terrain is always effective because of Nowra’s writing expertise, insightful personality analysis and affection for humanity.
Lewis is always the active writer listening attentively and nonjudgmentally. His affection, compassionate and tender interaction with Venus is very moving, as the disparity between the vulgar, high spirited, brash drag queen and the aging lonely washed up star is poignantly expressed.
In this production it is impossible to choose stand out performances as the cast’s impeccable transformation into Nowra’s Rising Star identities is faultless. Their distinctive personalities are etched authentically into the text and action of the play. Each character’s mannerisms, personal traits and gestures are sustained with a professional excellence that is thrilling to observe.
Every aspect of this production is outstanding. Nowra’s brilliant script is honoured by both Creatives and Actors to produce the milestone theatrical production for 2017.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Old Fitz Theatre
12 July – 12 August
SOLD OUT SEASON
ALL IMAGES COURTESY REDLINE PRODUCTIONS
Justin Stewart Cotta
Written by Louis Nowra
Directed by Toby Schmitz
Assistant Directed by Andrew Henry
Set Design by Anna Gardiner
Lighting Design by Matt Cox
Costume Design by Martelle Hunt
Sound Design by Jed Silver
Stage Management by Bronte Axam
Photography by John Marmaras