Suzie Miller’s new work SUNSET STRIP is a wonderful new Australian play that is presented with a recognisable truth and honesty. Finding hope in darkness, questioning whether habits can be changed and the importance of love and family is examined with a humour in amongst the hurt with a perfect balance that gives hope without sugar coating reality.
Directed by Anthony Skuse, this refreshingly female centric work focuses on two very different sisters in their mid to late 30’s who have finally been reunited following their own major challenges. Older sister Caroline (Georgina Symes), or Caro as her family insist on calling her, is a straight backed, sophisticated, successful city lawyer who has returned to her childhood home of Sunset Strip to help her sister, Phoebe (Emma Jackson), but Caro seems to be struggling with challenges of her own. Phoebe, the younger wilder sister, needs Caro to support her bid to get her children back from welfare following a stint in rehab, but as well as trying to convince the authorities, she also must convince her sister that she is reformed and that her pending nuptials to Teddy (Simon Lyndon) are a good idea. As Caro returns to the former holiday village, set on the banks of what was once a vast lake filled with fish and the sounds of children’s laughter and twittering birds, she realises how much has changed since she escaped many years ago. The lake is now dirt, no matter how much Phoebe protests that it is sand, and the sisters’ father Ray (Lex Marinos) has deteriorated from the depression following their mother’s death when they were children and slipped into an unpredictable dementia that leaves him with rare moments of lucidity between confusion, unrecognition and anger.
Emma Vine has created a ‘simple’ set that sets the seeds of suggestion to allow Miller’s text and Skuse’s direction to complete the picture in the audiences’ imagination. The stage is filled with clean yellow sand with a weathered old dingy beached, waiting for water that will never return. The black walls come down to black steps that also serve as seating in a setting that relies on suggestion with the only other props being a fishtank and colourful children’s glockenspiel.
Lighting designer Verity Hampson helps build the image of the location and time with bright sunlight beating down on the dry dirt as Phoebe suns herself and Ray fishes with magnets. Dappled shadows provide the peace of night as secrets are unearthed out of the spotlight and stuttering lights help echo the confusion in Ray’s mind.
Vine’s costuming is equally simple, highlighting the contrast between Caro’s big city sophistication of stiletto’s and tailored pants against Phoebe’s relaxed op-shop bathers and cut off shorts. Vine also highlights the challenge of Ray’s deterioration with the implication that it’s a challenge to get him into anything more than his underwear if it is not absolutely necessary.
The quartet delivers an emotional performance that captures the excitement, energy and hope as well as the pain, heartache, loneliness and fear that the characters are facing. There is a naturalness and honesty in the performances, from Jackson’s expression of Phoebe’s eagerness tinged with nervousness at welcoming her sister home and trying to make things seem alright and normal when there is so much bubbling below the surface that Caro isn’t completely aware of, to Symes handling of Caro’s admission of feeling isolated and abandoned when neither her lover or her family were truly there for her during her treatment when she needed to be the one taken care of for once in her life of ensuring her sister and father were looked after.
As Ray, Marinos truly inhabits the character with a heartbreakingly nuanced performance that presents the unexpected transitions between clarity and confusion. He captures the father’s vulnerability and fragility as his mind returns to a child like state along with providing the story with hope with his implausible pet project of trying to teach his goldfish to play music for food. Lyndon’s portrayal of Phoebe’s fiancé carries a quiet earnestness that he believes he has changed since he was 19, sharing a past with Caro.
SUNSET STRIP covers some incredibly weighty subjects that are relatable and recognisable but also exposes the fact that even in pain, suffering, and major challenges, humans use humour to cope and that whilst some things may never get better, it is the hope of change that keeps people going. A heartbreaking and heart-warming work that will have you laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time. This contemporary Australian work has truth and honesty that will resonate with all audiences, regardless of background, age or gender as it is about people, love, family, forgiveness, hope and survival.
SBW Stables, Kings Cross
14th June – 1st July 2017