Review: The Readers (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 5 – 19, 2018
Playwright: Scott Smart
Director: Elizabeth Nabben
Cast: Anni Finsterer, John McNeill, Scott Smart
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is tempting to judge ourselves by things we read in the news. The extremities of society, whether the great successes or our dismal failures, give a powerful impression of the people we are, but routinely neglected are the smaller stories of millions of individuals, those that offer a more accurate picture of daily Australian life. Scott Smart’s The Readers puts focus on those who make up the regular working class, the ones who rarely make the papers.

Peter and Lachlan read electricity metre boxes for a living, going about their business with little fuss or drama. They are two white men who seem to suffer no disadvantage, but their lives are not without challenges. In our current state of accelerating capitalism, what were once perfectly respectable jobs, are gradually turned humiliating. The play shows the insidious nature of how money is allowed to compromise the dignity of our workers. Peter and Lachlan have rules to abide by, but not all of them are reasonable.

The production is elegantly directed by Elizabeth Nabben, who manifests a quiet charm around her characters and situations. It seems society has accepted that employers will, by some degree, infringe upon their staff, and The Readers embodies a quality of nonchalance that reflects that reality. Working for someone does not mean that one becomes a stakeholder, one simply becomes an instrument of functionality, and will have to accept a certain amount of dehumanisation within their prescribed responsibilities. It is the profit motive that takes precedence, rather than the welfare of our communities.

John McNeill and Scott Smart play the key roles, both subtle but strong with their humour, delivering excellent nuance for this gentle piece of theatre. They form an amusing duo, comedic but also poignant, without having to reach for creative choices that may be too obvious. The third wheel Annie, a flimsy character with arguably unconvincing traits, is performed by Anni Finsterer who plays up the silliness to great effect, for moments of extraordinary hamminess that prove surprisingly delightful.

In The Readers, we see that the only thing trickling down from top to bottom, is the anxiety of business ownership. Profits, on the other hand, remain exclusively within the upper crust. Managers do not hesitate to exert pressure on those who have to put in the hard yards, but only shareholders stand to gain monetary wise. Peter and Lachlan never complain. Like most of our work force, people accept their lot, accustom to the feeling of disempowerment. We are taught to work hard, to grin and bear it, in order that rewards may be delivered. That belief is not a lie, but it is clearly not the entire truth.

www.belvoir.com.au