Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 9 – Jun 1, 2014
Book: Alex Broun, Tim Freedman
Music: Tim Freedman
Lyrics: Tim Freedman
Director: Neil Gooding
Musical Director: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Ian Stenlake, Scott Irwin, Erica Lovell, Toby Francis, Ross Chisari
Opera and the stage musical are theatre genres with their own defined song structures. Music is written in a specific way so that the genre works. Tim Freedman’s songs were written not for the stage, but for the world of pop and rock. This “juke box” musical is formed with highlights of his recording career with The Whitlams, and it is debatable how well the selection stands up against compositions tailored for the genre, but there is no question that this premier production of Truth, Beauty And A Picture Of You is effective on many levels.
Freedman and Alex Broun have built around the songs, a story replete with nostalgia and sentimentality, ensuring an emotional experience that audiences expect of the format. Characters and lines are thoughtfully crafted, with scenes between songs sometimes leaving a greater impression than the musical numbers themselves. Neil Gooding’s direction utilises space limitations of the Hayes Theatre to his advantage, evoking wistfully, the grunge of the 1990s and of Newtown, where the action is set, but it should be said that visual design could benefit from being a little more adventurous. The incorporation of live musicians within the space is charming. Gooding allows them to be within sight, but they are never intrusive. Above all, Gooding is a sensitive storyteller. The plot unfolds beautifully, with surprise, laughter and pathos always in the mix. His cast is a strong one, and the conviction of their performances is impressively engrossing.
Ian Stenlake, in the role of Anton, unleashes remarkable charisma. He is not a heroic protagonist, but his confident presence captivates us, and makes us care for all that he goes through. Stenlake’s ability to portray frivolity and an Australian casualness is wonderfully endearing, and his comic timing is a highlight of the show. Scott Irwin plays Charlie, buoyant and optimistic in 1994, but wearied and dejected in 2014. His unbelievable transformation between both eras bears an authenticity that is astonishing. Irwin’s work is subtle but powerful. His depiction of the character’s darker moments are devastating, and it is this gravity that gives the production its soul.
Younger members of the cast might be slightly less accomplished, but their talents are evident. Their vocal abilities in particular are outstanding, and they bring new life to many of the songs. It is unfortunate that the only obvious technical weakness of the production has to do with the way voices are mixed, as the band tends to drown out some of the singing in the bigger numbers. Erica Lovell as Beatrice is delightful and spirited. She is the strongest actor in the young bunch, and turns a somewhat inconsequential character into a memorable one.
Truth, Beauty And A Picture Of You is a moving show about love in its many guises. It tugs at our heartstrings and touches deeply. Like every great musical, it is affecting and entertaining, and it presents an opportunity to showcase some of our greatest talents, in whom we find great joy and sublime inspiration.