Review: Aunt Agony (New Theatre)

auntagonyVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 15 – 22, 2014
Director: Michael Campbell
Playwright: Richard Black
Cast: Sasha Dyer, Dave Kirkham, Taylor Owynns

Theatre review
In a society that overvalues youth, we often forget that quirky old people are much more amusing and fascinating creatures than their offspring. Richard Black’s Aunt Agony is a farcical black comedy that imagines the secret wild life of Aunt Lynn from the conservative Upper North Shore of Sydney. Lynn is an eccentric and flamboyant lady who lives with a cat and a dark side. Her niece Christine has just ended a relationship and seeks refuge in Lynn’s apartment. Their love-hate relationship reveals a series of antics, funny and sinister, that forms the plot of this surprisingly textured show. Black’s characters are vibrant and his scenarios whimsically formulated, with punchy dialogue and timely sociopolitical references.

The work becomes tighter in pace after the halfway point. Early scenes move a little slow, preventing tension from taking form satisfactorily. Perhaps some edits to the script can provide some energy. The actors’ rhythms can also benefit from an increase in speed, but Michael Campbell’s direction is quite accomplished. He injects a wonderful playfulness to the production, and makes brave choices that befit the idiosyncrasy of the lead character. The play’s more nefarious elements are handled with just enough seriousness to retain their sobering reverberations, but they do not get in the way of the overall joviality of the show.

Lynn is played by the effervescent Taylor Owynns who is endearing from her very first entrance. She has a likability that keep us on her side no matter how abhorrent her shenanigans become. Owynns performs a charming madness, but some of her techniques can feel slightly repetitive. The show requires a high level of energy from her, and she delivers on most occasions especially when in close collaboration with Sasha Dyer who takes on the role of Christine. Dyer comes to life when the show’s brashness escalates. She is a spirited performer who works well with physical comedy, and there are many opportunities for her talents to shine through on this stage. Dyer’s firm commitment and focus makes substantial what is essentially a supporting part. Also providing effective support is Dave Kirkham whose good humour makes his brief appearances delightful and memorable.

Design of the show is pleasant and efficient, but the set leaves empty space in the down stage area, which is not often utilised. Moving set pieces closer to the audience would allow more intimacy and hence create greater impact. The production leaves a lasting impression with meaningful morsels littered through its text. It is often hilarious with a giddy silliness, but its entertainment value is sometimes coupled with poignancy, proving itself to be the kind of madcap comedy that refuses to underestimate its audience.