Friday, September 9, 2011

Theatre: The Sugar Mother

by John Senczuk
adapted from Woman in a Lampshade and The Sugar Mother
by Elizabeth Jolley
Directed and designed by John Senczuk
Featuring Ian Toyne, Christie Sistrunk, Val Riches, Sophie Kesteven, Anna Brockway and David McLeod
The Metcalfe Playhouse
Season ended

Val Riches and Sophie Kesteven
A couple, both of a certain age, find themselves feeling their oats at the same time with persons young enough to be their offspring during a mutually-agreed marital sabbatical.
University lecturer Edwin (Ian Toyne) stays at home while his doctor wife Cecilia (Christie Sistrunk) drives to their holiday house to work on the novel she’s always wanted to write.
Along the way, Cecilia picks up a dishevelled hitch-hiker (David McLeod) and, shortly enough, retires to a mattress with him for the duration. Meanwhile, Edwin’s home is invaded by his neighbours, the nubile Leila (Sophie Kesteven) and her manipulative and malapropative mother (Val Riches), and he is immediately struck with a severe case of the Humbert Humberts. Despite the best efforts – albeit with her own, dubious, motives – of the couple’s friend Daphne (Anna Brockway), Edwin and Leila are also soon in the sack.
Edwin, though, concocts an excuse for his bad behaviour; he and Cecilia are childless, and he comes to terms with Leila’s mother – a deposit on conception, the balance on delivery – for the girl to be a surrogate mother (the mother’s misunderstanding of “surrogate” as “sugar” explains the play’s title). Leila conceives on schedule – rather ahead of schedule, as it later transpires, and proceeds rapidly through her pregnancy.
Meanwhile (there’s a great deal of “meanwhiling” in this plot) Cecilia and her young pick-up are making heavy weather of their marathon sleep-over. I could be mistaken here but, despite extended preliminaries, there doesn’t appear to be any actual coitus going on at all. This may be in part because Cecilia likes to wear a lampshade on her head to help her creative process (John Senczuk’s play is an adaptation of two stories by Elizabeth Jolley, The Sugar Mother and Woman in a Lampshade).
And so on. If you’re thinking Alan Ayckbourn by now, join the club.
It’s a complicated balancing act to keep all this going at once, and Senczuk (he also directs) by and large keeps the show on the road despite times in its latter stages when it hits the rumble strip pretty noticeably.
He is aided by some robust performances, especially from Brockway, who inhabits her increasing fraught character with some √©lan, Riches, who gets the maternal and the mercenary mother just about right, and Sistrunk, who manages to convince you that a young man might happily fall into bed with her, even if she’s got a lampshade on. It’s a bit harder to accept why a young girl might want to do the same with Toyne’s character, but maybe that’s the point.
The youngsters are a little problematic. In Kesteven’s case, that’s entirely because her badly underwritten character doesn’t get to do much more than swell during the proceedings. McLeod continues the awkward apprenticeship we first saw in Senczuk’s recent production of The Enchanters, once again playing a part that is way too much for him.
I liked it. Enough to overlook its undeniable shortcomings. The acoustics were okay this time, the seats remain the best in the business, and while it isn’t going to set the world on fire and I’m deeply worried about its box office viability, it’s a perfectly worthwhile venture by the busiest, and bravest, theatre outfit in town.


My concerns about the show's box office would, unfortunately, seem to have been realised, and it has closed early. I'm sorry to hear it. 


Link here for Robin Pascoe's take on The Sugar Mother in The West Australian

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