Review: Procne & Tereus (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – 20, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Christian Byers, Lucinda Howes, Victoria Zerbst

Theatre review
Philomela visits her sister Procne’s home. Procne and her boyfriend Tereus are only a little older but their lives seem a world away from Philomela’s university student existence. The couple is expecting a child, but Tereus is more interested in the wine. He enjoys the intoxication and likes the way its price tag makes him look. The play begins in a space of middle-class ordinariness, but like in many middle-class spaces, there is an insidious deluge of quiet anxiety. Not enough happens to write home about, but its inanity gradually wears you down into sickness. In Procne & Tereus, we associate that anxiety with early adulthood, and a sense of being at crossroads, always wondering what that crucial next step holds. The young cast play older characters, and we see our frightening reflection in their portrayal of innocence lost.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s script is simple but poignant. His love for the art of inference makes that which is not being said, speak louder. His direction is even more accomplished, with a brave and adventurous spirit that emerges alongside thoughtfulness and subtlety. Not all manoeuvres are elegant, but there is always clarity in intent and a theatrical flair that feels natural yet purposeful. Lusty-Cavallari’s work is conceived with complexity, but his execution is articulate and concise. His talent is real, and its development is incredibly exciting.

Tereus is played by Christian Byers who deceives us with a surface of frivolity. His darkness within is almost completely hidden but Byers drops hints of malice that unnerve with a dangerous delight. It is a relaxed performance, sometimes silly in tone, but there is an impressive measuredness that accompanies his exaggerated nonchalance. Lucinda Howes as Procne, brings realism to the production with a restrained and minimalist approach that is strangely engaging, but her energy levels can read a little muted at times. Victoria Zerbst’s commitment to the role of Philomela is spine-tingling, and her presence shines through when performing the more surreal sections of the play.

Lighting by Eunice Huang and sound by Lusty-Cavallari and Byers, are key features of the production. Atmosphere is shaped and varied beautifully, contributing substantially to the narrative’s coherence. This Greek tragedy leaves us at a satisfying, albeit apocalyptic end. It relates marriage and family to questions about gender and sex. The story is grim because it is about our taboos. It shows us some of our greatest fears, and warns us about our unexamined but commonly-held beliefs. It leaves us nowhere to hide because its truths prevail.

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