Theatre / “The Good Doctor”. Honest Puck and Limbo Theatre Co, at Perform Australia Theatre, Fyshwick, until August 31. Reviewed by ARNE SJOSTEDT
IT was clear from the opening scene that this play was going to be the kind of academic, actorly exploration people can expect from director and trainer of fine actors, James Scott. Damon Baudin playing the role of writer carefully set out his exposition, establishing the the time and place, the setting.
Already the writing was funny. Charming. Then the reveal. Behind a set of curtains, inside a mock proscenium were the actors’ drab but expressive faces, set in tableaux. Superbly lit, rurally Russian, this created the visual and dramatic tone for the rest of the evening and let Neil Simon’s adaptation of a series of short stories by Russian giant Anton Chekhov awaken for the audience.
Launching into “The Sneeze”, which gave an impish Isaac Beach an opportunity to explore his gift, on an effective set that reminded the audience of the kind of clumsy utilitarian device used by a band of travelling players, what followed was one of those fine theatre moments where the audience understood that they were in well trained, confident directorial hands. With a group of clever and very well trained cast, this ensemble was, almost to the brim of the cup, at a level people would expect and hope to see in any city, anywhere.
These character actors were good. Each inhabited their roles and turned on a truly satisfying, articulate and expressive performances that left the audience watching each gesture, expression, movement of the eyes. Nick Steain’s riveting performance as the sexton with a store tooth (alongside Anneka van der Velde) was incredibly well thought out, as was his equally detailed (yet so slightly over-focused) work with Beach in the “Drowned Man”.
He reminded me of a young Ian Croker at his finest. Not to be outdone, Hayden Splitt, an incredible actor, was immaculate as the wily wife stealer in “The Seduction”, and Heidi Silberman’s divine work in “The Governess” was so lush and profoundly subtle as to leave me looking for a wide angle lens to start capturing footage.
Though the same could be said of everyone on stage.
All this would mean less if the words the cast had to work with were not so good. The evening itself was made up of a series of intelligent dramatic vignettes, all of them truly witty, wonderfully engaging and entertaining. However, they were not just that. In true Chekhovian form, these plays explored the maladies of life. They gave up insights and love, cringes and laughter.
An evening of actorly direction of the work of a Russian great and his modern adaptor, in the hands of one of Canberra’s best theatre technicians. This production had it all.