Dog sitting takes a disastrous turn in punchy performance
By Owen James
Sweet Phoebe is beloved Australian playwright Michael Gow’s intimate saga of resilience and obsession. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, it tackles one young couple’s swelling fixation on finding lost dog Phoebe and the search’s dire consequences on their marriage and wellbeing.
Far more isolated than Gow’s most famous play Away, Sweet Phoebe takes place entirely in one room: the living room of ambitious, hard-working couple Helen and Frazer. Director Mark Wilson utilises the confined setting to its full advantage, staging a production that held my attention every step of the way. With nothing but one stagnant room, two actors, and Gow’s strong script, Wilson has concocted great theatre.
Outside these lightning-lined walls (a simple but incredibly effective set by Laura Jean Hawkins), the rising tide of industrial modernity and its career-driven pressures laps at the door and seeps in through the cracks. Marcus McKenzie and Olivia Monticciolo as Frazer and Helen bring this pressure and its debilitating effects into their house.
As their search for Phoebe increases in desperation and aggression, McKenzie and Monticciolo fiercely control the stage, doing their best to overcome Gow’s monologue-heavy tail end of the play with rich and compelling characters. Their heightened intensity from the very beginning of the play leaves them little room to climb, but Monticciolo and McKenzie successfully take us beneath the layers of Helen and Frazer to a warped reality down Gow’s rabbit hole.
Sound by Daniel Nixon amplifies the frantic characters’ inner torment and is timed to perfection with every scene change. The set and sound are complemented by precise and intricate lighting by Lisa Mibus, all three elements blend seamlessly to create a palate of evocative and measured unified design.
Sweet Phoebe combines clever writing, effective design and powerhouse performances into a punchy, intriguing 80 minutes that matches Red Stitch’s usual exceptional standard. Full credit to every creative in this team for staging this devolving, distorted mirage with fiery tenacity.
Sweet Phoebe is being performed at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre until 3 March. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9533 8083.
Photograph: Teresa Noble