Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 1 – 12, 2016
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Suzanne Pereira, Anthony Skuse
Cast: Charlotte Hazzard, Alastair Osment
There is something superficial about Fraser and Helen’s relationship in Sweet Phoebe. They spend most of their time talking about work, using it as a distraction from issues at home. When a friend’s dog comes to live, their life begins to unravel, revealing problems they had previously chosen not to acknowledge. Michael Gow writes about how we get caught up in unimportant things. Middle class existences in wealthy Australia are preoccupied with inconsequential and frivolous obsessions that allow deeper parts of ourselves be ignored, until they become urgent for attention, culminating in crisis points, leaving us crying for help.
As Helen, Charlotte Hazzard presents truthful emotions that give the pair’s small world a sense of volatile authenticity. Alastair Osment’s theatrical approach highlights the artificiality and showy shallowness of Fraser. Both actors bring to the piece, a fine balance of comedy and tragedy that is often entertaining and quite gripping. Directors Suzanne Pereira and Anthony Skuse ensure that dynamics between characters are explored with sensitivity and a resonant accuracy. A plot twist does however, turn the production slightly predictable and banal towards its end, causing its conclusion to arrive deflated.
The play contains sharp humour and pointed commentary on modern couples, asking questions about the nature of intimate relationships in today’s climate of rationality and independence. As traditional values and religious beliefs fade away, it becomes necessary to understand the evolution of our psyche as it pertains to these unions, if we are to learn how to keep marriages working. There is little evidence in Sweet Phoebe that the couple should remain together, aside from the practicalities of property co-ownership. Where signs of romance do emerge, they materialise in negative ways through jealousy and anger, and while they do engage in sexual intercourse, it seems that their connection is less than extraordinary.
It is hard to make a meaningful life, when we are surrounded by things that matter little, or when we forget that time is finite. We should not be foolish with what we choose to pursue, and our decisions must never cause harm to others, but as our times become increasingly narcissistic, the likelihood of creating rich existences can only diminish.