A seductive thriller brimming with dark humour
By Lois Maskiell
Quebecois playwright Catherine-Anne Toupin penned her award-winning play Right Now in 2005 under the original title À présent. Three years later it premiered at Montreal’s La Licorne and has since been translated into English, Italian, Spanish and German with its 2016 British tour meeting overwhelmingly positive reviews.
This year Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre brings it to Australian audiences and it stands out as the only play from a non-Anglophone writer in their 2018 program. Theatre and opera director Katy Maudlin (AntigoneX, Eathquakes in London, Otello) has staged a shatteringly clear and compact production that brings to life the disconcerting universe of Toupin’s text.
Set in the small apartment of young couple, Alice (Christina O’Neill) and Ben (Dushan Phillips), it’s soon discovered they have recently suffered a difficult and traumatic experience. Their privacy is interrupted by insidiously intruding neighbours from across the hall. Husband and wife, Gilles (Joe Petruzzi) and Juliette (Olga Makeeva) along with son Francois (Mark Wilson) of thirty-five years appear to be right at home in their neighbours’ apartment. The influence this disturbing yet charming trio has on the couple’s lives will have an enduring effect to say the least.
Oscillating between the real and unbelievable, the relationships between these characters develop, descending into a collision of fantasy, desire and outward-facing good manners. The strangeness of Gilles’, Juliette’s and Francois’ behaviour is shudderingly alluring. Makeeva’s Juliette is both manipulative and warm, while Petruzzi is suave and persuasive as Gilles. Together their existence appears to be a moral experiment of sorts, where anything goes and anything is acceptable. Wilson performs Francois exceptionally; his leering grin, and grim humour arousing goosebumps within seconds.
In contrast, Alice and Ben aim for normalcy in their marriage. Phillips’ Ben authentically portrays a man whose life is dominated by work – whether it’s his way of dealing with or running from perpetual reminders of past loss is difficult to know. O’Neill on the other hand crushingly captures the state of a depressed woman whose memory of the past haunts her during mundane moments. As she eagerly searches for enjoyment amidst new company, she finds herself in confusing situations.
The bewildering sense of realism that permeates the play is accentuated by Emily Barrie’s set and costume design, though when combined with crafty lighting and sound techniques, a sense of horror reminiscent of Hitchcock is injected into the staging.
This brilliant team of creatives and crew have achieved a captivating theatrical experience with a final twist that remains shrouded in mystery. Toying with illusion, any definitive answer of how and why things wind up the way they do is eschewed. It’s this mysterious resolution – cleverly steeped in strangeness and suspense that makes Red Stitch’s production of Right Now so outstanding.
Right Now, directed by Kate Maudlin. Set and costume by Emily Barrie, lighting design by Richard Vabre, sound design by Daniel Nixon. Featuring Christina O’Neill, Olga Makeeva, Joe Petruzzi, Dushan Phillips and Mark Wilson.
At Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 20 May. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9544 8083.