Brisbane’s Now Look Here theatre company have positioned themselves as the go-to group for audiences that want to see intelligent, text-driven productions and have proven true to their word with the exceptional staging of previous productions such as Chekhov’s, The Seagull (2015) and Pinter’s divine The Lover & a Slight Ache (2016). And this year is no different with Kate Wild bringing to the audience, the remarkable and quiet brilliance of Abi Morgan’s Splendour (Metro Arts March 29 – April 8).
Four women meet on the complex border of revolution and power. It’s the serious end of a civil war in an unidentified Eastern European Country. Western photo-journalist Kathryn (Kerith Atkinson) begrudgingly attends the presidential palace to take a portrait and finds the First Lady, Micheleine (Pip Boyce), waiting alone but for the rather mischievous translator (Ngoc Phan).
The main scene is on repeat, signalled by the breaking of a glass vase pilfered into the pockets of Gilma, the translator (a wonderful comic performance by Phan). Each time she scatters the glass, the pieces of the vase fall differently, sitting slightly askew – alluding to the pieces of truth as it is recalled from the different vantage points – different motivations and different places in history for these four women. As the evening progresses like a hostage situation we come to question the role of ‘the wife’ in the politics of powerful men.
Micheleine seems abandoned among the trappings of totalitarianism: the glorious mansion, fine glassware and the very best vodka eagerly splashed around among company. She is complicit by her delight in opulence and she is almost defiant in her complicacy, long after her husband has deserted or died, we don’t immediately know which, but she seems left to face the music. In an unsettling way I felt sorry for her.
As well as the photo-journalist, and the light-fingered translator, the group is completed by Micheleine’s oldest friend Genevieve (Luisa Prosser). Prosser’s performance is simmering and stunning. The First Lady’s oldest (and resentful friend) is the key to the unfolding truth as she enters the house on a summons, her hair soaking wet after being forced to drive by the back route to the mansion. The revolution is on its way and we are left to wonder the fate of each woman: The Western Press, the Dictators Wife, the maligned Northern translator or the First Ladies Friend – the tension is palpable.
Staged with the raw simplicity that seems key to a Now Look Here’s approach, the audience focus is very much on the actors and their delivery. The four women held up each corner of their conflict with purposeful delivery and were utterly engaging to the end.
Splendour played at Brisbane’s Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre from March 29 – April 8.