Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 15, 2018
Playwright: Peter Carey (adapted for the stage by Tom Wright)
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Marco Chiappi, Mark Coles Smith, Will McDonald, Amber McMahon, Charlotte Nicdao, Susan Prior, Anna Samson, Toby Truslove
Images by Pia Johnson
Harry Joy escapes a narrow death, but in the return to consciousness, he is no longer the same. Peter Carey’s 1981 novel Bliss is the story of an archetypal ad man, exemplary only in the mediocrity that he embodies, coming to the realisation that the hell he endures is in fact present in the here and now, and not a figment about a foreboded afterlife. Tom Wright’s adaptation for the stage is appropriately surreal, as Joy begins to see the absurdity of the world that he inhabits. Scenes are whimsically comedic, with a flamboyant sense of neurosis that makes for amusing theatre, but its tale of redemption feels surprisingly distant. The central concerns in Bliss remain relevant, but 37 years is a long while for us to retain meaningful identification with its plot and people.
Although little of the content has been updated for our times, director Matthew Lutton’s stylistic choices are undeniably au courant, inventive and imaginative. Sprightly, with a little acerbity, it is an energetic production, spouting clever ideas at every turn. The moral of its story can seem too basic, and obvious, but the show’s structural complexities keep us attentive. Marg Horwell’s set is a simple concept that proves highly effective in shifting dimensions, thereby conveying time and space in a dynamic manner. Paul Jackson’s big, blunt lighting transformations give us lots of delicious drama, and Stefan Gregory’s music has a quirky edge that is delightfully unpredictable.
Actor Toby Truslove is a credible leading man, especially persuasive in moments of melancholy. His quiet but confident interpretation of the play’s humour, brings a subtlety that offers refreshing juxtaposition against a lot of theatrical commotion. As Bettina Joy, Amber McMahon’s rigorous elucidations are as illuminating as they are entertaining. The performer is to be admired for the integrity she is able to introduce, to a character who is destroyed for daring to follow her bliss. Marco Chiappi and Susan Prior are memorable for the boldness of their satire, both personalities radiant and irresistibly funny on this stage.
There can never be enough stories warning us about the single-minded pursuit of money. The seductive powers of materialism seem to grow ever so exponentially, no matter how much we are told of its dangers. The all-or-nothing propositions of Bliss however, give it a quality of the parable, the kind that conclude with unrealistic resolutions that will struggle to deliver inspiration. It is easy to say that the root of all evil is money, but much harder to find an alternate undertaking, when one is deeply entrenched in the deceptive glory of gold.