Written by Joanna Murray-Smith
Directed by Peter Houghton
Set and costume design by Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting designer Matthew Marshall
with Jacob Allan, Humphrey Bower, Matt Dyktynski, Michelle Fornasier, Roz Hammond and Claire Lovering
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until June 30
Black Swan’s 2013 season has found its feet with a high-spirited, handsome production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s screwball bedroom farce Day One, A Hotel, Evening.
After suffering through her diabolical Ninety, also for Black Swan, in 2011, and last year’s lazily penned MTC production of Songs for Nobodies, I couldn’t be accused of wearing an I Heart Joanna button on my lapel. I’m happy to say that Day One is a major improvement on both of them.
Spoiler alert rules forbid me telling you more than that pretty much everyone in the play is shagging pretty much everyone else in it, and it’s all got to end badly; but while the plot is dizzyingly convoluted and rolls out at breakneck speed, director Peter Houghton and designer Tracy Grant Lord have shaped it brilliantly.
It’s hard to imagine a set of greater assistance to the telling of a story – not just its themes, or its moods, but the narrative itself – than Grant Lord’s massive, complex revolve of bedrooms and lounge rooms, corridors and cafés that spins through the play’s 90-odd minutes. Its curves and surfaces – all clad in those thin, glossy, mission brown bricks much used in motels of a certain vintage and purpose – are a godsend for lighting designer Matthew Marshall, and he goes to town on them, creating a genuinely witty, mock noir feel for the show. Meanwhile, Houghton manoeuvres his hard-working cast through the orbiting set with the deliberate precision of a Ross Lyon defence. One long conversation was like those iconic walk and talk scenes in The West Wing; it was remarkable to see it realised so convincingly on stage.
Murray-Smith’s writing can be improbable (a switched-on young actress inexplicably writes a letter to her older lover and sends it to his family home; a hit man returns to Australia – and presumably through airport security – with a small arsenal in his walk-on luggage) and inconsistent (a character is gleefully complicit in his wife’s affair, but furious when he finds out who she’s having it with). There’s also her recalcitrant habit of giving characters her own voice, her own language and her own, somewhat self-reverential, cultural literacy. No doubt there are rough-as-guts Aussie real estate developers who suddenly quote Goethe out there, but I suspect they’d take some finding.
Mercifully, this disembodied pontificating, which is about all that happens in Ninety, only occasionally erupts here, and is quickly forgotten among the plot’s entertaining twists and turns and the script’s verbal fun and games.
Some of those funnies are of the Skinner Box variety (why does the mere mention of internet porn invariably produce helpless laughter), but there are passages of genuine wit, and the tightening of the story’s screws and unveiling of its portents of impending disaster, while perhaps not as deft as, say, Ayckbourn’s, are maliciously entertaining.
The performances are all strong, with Humphrey Bower’s unintentionally hilarious developer Sam and Claire Lovering’s provocative Rose particularly striking. Matt Dyktynski, as Sam’s hopelessly randy junior partner Tom, and Michelle Fornasier as his lover – and Sam’s wife – Madeleine have great moments, as does Roz Hammond, who’s wide-eyed, clairvoyant Stella is the only character who deserves a better hand than she’s been dealt, and resolves to do something about it. Rose’s mysterious husband Ray, he of the unlikely cabin baggage, is rather less developed than the other characters, but Jacob Allan skilfully gives him both hard and soft sides.
An average production of Day One, a Hotel, Evening would struggle to stay afloat. Done as well as this, though, it’s absolutely worth your seeing.
This review appeared in The West Australian 22.6.13