Dawning potential as four lives interweave
By Caitlin McGrane
There’s something about Red Stitch that always keeps me coming back. It might be the way their plays seem to be selected deliberately and with precision, or the very, very fine performances that they nearly always seem to produce. Sunshine by Tom Holloway opens with four performers lying on the ground on stage where they seem to come to life one-by-one and speak their lines lyrically and with intense musicality.
Each player moves in their own world; even when it becomes apparent later that they’re interacting with one another, it’s like they’re in layered alternate universes. I was reminded of the ‘real’ world compared to the ‘Upside Down’ in Stranger Things in the way the characters moved around each other, near and almost touching but never quite. Direction from Kirsten von Bibra was superb and sublime – the delicate and precarious way the actors spoke and moved around each other was masterful. The four-hander cast, Ella Caldwell, Philip Hayden, Caroline Lee and George Lingard, are all tremendous, very much each making the most of their character’s individual trajectory.
For me, however, the writing was disappointing. The dialogue was highly stylised, and for a time it was really interesting and beautiful, but after about half an hour my head began to ache and I found I was having to do a lot of work to remember what was happening with each character. As my head whipped back and forth trying to keep up, I started to lose interest in the onstage goings on.
The dialogue would have been easy enough to let go if the individual stories amounted to more than the sum of their parts, but for my money the playwright missed an opportunity to look at a really interesting relationship between Man 2 (Philip Hayden) and Woman 2 (Caroline Lee). Hayden and Lee had far and away the most nuanced and interesting characters, and their limited interaction showed the kind of writing of which Holloway is capable.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that embedded within the writing is the character of a homeless man who ostensibly lives in the same universe in which the play takes place. He has no lines, no face and is referred to only as a plot device (to do what exactly, I’m not sure). Homelessness is an increasing problem in Melbourne, and it was extremely disappointing to see yet another misrepresentation of homelessness as male, drug-affected and living in a park. People who are homeless deserve better and fairer representation, and it smacks of lazy writing to use people who are already socially invisible in this manner.
All that said, there was a lot to enjoy. The set and lighting were expertly crafted by Matthew Adey – the staging in particular showed real ingenuity. Elizabeth Drake made some interesting choices for the play’s composition and sound design; her dreamy ethereal sounds were reminiscent of Blade Runner. Costumes (Matilda Woodroofe) were simple, fitting the minimalist theme of the play, and didn’t distract from the drama. Overall Sunshine shows great potential, not least from Holloway who I hope will continue to grow and experiment as a writer.
Sunshine is now showing at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 5 November 2016. Tickets and more information: http://redstitch.net/gallery/sunshine/