theatre / “Wicked Sisters” by Alma de Groen, directed by Tony Turner for papermoon theatre, Courtyard Studio, until May 18. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA
THIS play, by Australian writer Alma de Groen, was first staged in 2002 but in this production it feels to be almost a period piece of the ’70s or ’80s.
Directed by Tony Turner, the play has a strong sense of place, it seems to be set somewhere in the Blue Mountains. The stage is dominated by the rear view of a huge computer and several screens, representing the deceased offstage character Alex, a brilliant Darwinian biologist and husband to Meridee, whose house this now is.
Small matter that the exact nature of the offstage Alex is research is never entirely clear, his overpowering intellect and ferocious determination to treat human beings as mere objects of study is indicated by the ever-present computer screens providing data to Alex’s former university.
The four “wicked sisters”, played by Elaine Noon, Alice Ferguson, Lainie Hart and Nikki-Lynne Hunter, have nothing to do with the witches in “Macbeth”, but are rather a group of educated, middle-class women getting together following the death of Alex. Before long, the home truths come out.
The script explores contemporary issues like Alzheimer’s disease, the nature of female sexuality and friendship, yet it feels like an old-fashioned “well-made-play”, with a beginning, a middle (a cliff-hanger just before the first act finishes) and end. There’s even a well-engineered twist late in the play that shows former researcher Hester (Hart) holding all the cards.
De Groen’s strength as a playwright is her fast-moving, crackling dialogue and the performers do justice to this, although the wide traverse-staging leads to some over playing, so that the intimacy at which the play hints never entirely emerges.
As the central character Meridee, Elaine Noon creates a substantial figure, turning from grieving widow of the brilliant man to something much more deadly.
Ferguson, as Judith, the PR executive who turns out to be the “other woman”, has a strong and abrasive presence, but hardly convinces that she held the professor’s affections for 10 years.
Hart turns in a ripper of a performance as the quirky Hester, and with Lynne Hunter as the vain real estate agent, Lydia, gives the play a comic edge.
But not for long. This is a complex play dealing with the intricacies of female friendship, and it’s not all pretty.
Founded 25 years ago by ANU lecturers Geoff Borny, Turner and Cate Clelland, papermoon theatre vanished when the university decided to close its drama department. Now it’s back with a vengeance and committed to bringing the public meatier plays, especially ones with good female roles.