Review: Atlantis (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 26, 2017
Playwright: Lally Katz
Director: Rosemary Myers
Cast: Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone, Amber McMahon, Hazem Shammas, Matthew Whittet
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Lally Katz’s Atlantis is an autobiographical fantasy. It sprouts from the personal and authentic, then leads to something entirely imaginary. Lally, the protagonist, is consumed by anxiety, when at 35, she finds herself single and childless. We follow her on an odyssey that takes her from Sydney, to the USA’s east coast; an eventful, wacky journey that comprises a string of amusing characters and incidents. Lally goes through many discoveries, fuelled by a desperate search for love, or at least a husband and a baby.

It is not a quest that all will find persuasive. The deliberately silly scenes in Atlantis are certainly a lot of whimsical fun, but the central disquiet that motivates all the action seems too trivial, perhaps even narcissistic, to allow us to invest in a meaningful way. Through the plot, Lally comes in contact with more worthy concepts, of climate change, of poverty and of mortality, but they affect her only momentarily. We can all see that her problems diminish in significance as time passes, but nonetheless, Lally persists. She must find a man to fall pregnant with, or she simply cannot go on.

Amber McMahon plays a juvenile, although very likeable, version of the playwright. As though in a pantomime, McMahon’s exaggerated effervescence proves to be captivating, as she keeps us attentive through the highs and lows of Lally’s stories. The production is unquestionably humorous, directed by Rosemary Myers with a relentless sprightliness that offers entertainment and laughter, even when the narrative turns tiresome. Four other actors are called upon to perform a big roster of small roles, and they are all remarkable. The infinite versatility of the ensemble astounds us, with what they are able to achieve through sheer inventiveness. Also noteworthy are Damien Cooper’s lights and Jonathan Oxlade’s set, creating exciting images full of colour and movement, increasingly mesmerising as the show turns hopelessly hallucinatory.

Like in all our lives, the promise of a utopia propels the action in Atlantis. We need to believe in something, like that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, in order that we can set ourselves in motion, so that we can fill time with meaning. Lally Katz does so much in the play, through all its scenes of mischievous adventure, but we see her being neglectful of each moment, keeping her mind focused instead on a puerile objective. When there is joy surrounding us, we must take notice and take pleasure in it. Better days will come, but understanding that they have a propensity to surprise us, and learning to see the signs that wish to evolve us, is how we can experience the magical unpredictability of this existence.