It’s a shame when bad things happen to potentially good theatre. Suzie Miller’s Sunset Strip attempts to bring humour and compassion to the dismal lives of its inhabitants and the play strives for quirky and cute, but the reality is that the laughs are light on the ground and the characters’ bleak lives don’t show much promise.
Phoebe (Emma Jackson) is about to get married and get her children back and she is determined to show her sister how great her life will now be. Older sister Caroline (Georgina Symes) is the realist of the two and has arrived home after a long absence to find her father addled by dementia and the landscape an endless beach with no water to break the monotony, the lake having long dried up. Caroline has just finished more chemo and is incredulous at her younger sister’s absolute refusal to face reality. When the reality gets too much for Phoebe, she slips back into old habits that could jeopardise her plan to get her children back.
A production that is meant to show the lighter side of the general shittiness of life (cancer, dementia), Miller’s play was inspired by her desire to write a story with people dealing with illness, particularly cancer, as she has had several loved ones struggle with the disease.Ultimately Sunset Strip failed in delivering much in the way of amusement for the audience.
The play lacked an authentic narrative as the dialogue relied heavily on tired clichés and melodrama throughout. One-dimensional performances by supporting actors never allowed the drama to flourish, but rather flounder in a deluge of predictable platitudes. Jackson and Symes struggle valiantly portraying Phoebe and Caroline but lacklustre chemistry coupled with dialogue that missed the mark derailed this production.
A competing storyline about dementia had Lex Marinos (playing father Ray) wandering through the play in a somnambulistic fugue, with the odd, all too short lucid moment. He provided some distraction, but ultimately this character provided far too limited a view of dementia, the complexities of which are myriad.
Laughing in the face of adversity is a common coping mechanism, we all do it. Director Anthony Skuse is trying for optimism here except it’s the kind of optimism that can only be achieved by donning rose-coloured glasses. Unfortunately on the night I saw Sunset Strip, I left mine at home.
Featuring: Emma Jackson, Simon Lyndon, Lex Marinos and Georgina Symes.
Creative & Technical Team: Suzie Miller (playwright), Anthony Skuse (director), Graeme McRae (assistant director), Kate Armstrong-Smith(exec producer), Lawrence Rosier Staines (producer),Emma Vine (set & costume design), Verity Hampson (lighting & projection design), Benjamin Freeman (sound design & composer) and Gayda de Mesa (stage manager).
Sunset Strip is presented by the Uncertainty Principle and Griffin Independent and is on until 1 July, for information and tickets see: http://www.griffintheatre.com.au/whats-on/sunset-strip-2/