Review: Cherry Smoke (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), Mar 24 – Apr 8, 2023
Playwright: James McManus
Charlie Vaux
Cast: Alice Birbara, Fraser Crane, Tom Dawson, Meg Hyeronimus
Images by Abraham de Souza

Theatre review
The story takes place somewhere in a godforsaken redneck part of the United States, where girls kiss delinquents and dream of birthing babies, and boys fight each other to prove their manhood. As we see in James McManus’ Cherry Smoke, there is not much one can aspire to, when caught in a cycle of poverty. Even the imagination is restricted, and people can only follow in the footsteps of parents, whose lives have proven completely unworthy of replication.

Directed by Charlie Vaux, the pessimistic story is given a surprising tenderness, with perhaps a deficiency in portrayals of brutality and grittiness, that makes the experience feel insufficiently poignant. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are commensurately soft in approach, visually appealing but overly romantic with its renderings of despondency. Soham Apte’s set design offers simple solutions to help facilitate entrances and exits with minimal friction. Sounds by Johnny Yang are a highlight,  working marvellously to alter atmosphere, and to manufacture moments of dramatic tension.

Actor Meg Hyeronimus plays the love-struck Cherry, as a sassy yet stern young woman,  whilst the object of her desire Fish is performed by Tom Dawson, who depicts the boxer with imprudence and a devastating recklessness. Both demonstrate good focus, along with attention to detail, for a challenging piece about a space that seems so far removed, from most of our present realities. Alice Birbara and Fraser Crane, too are diligent with their parts as Bug and Duffy respectively, bringing intensity to the production at key junctures.

The veracity of socio-economic problems being explored in Cherry Smoke, is beyond doubt. Evidence of people falling through the cracks is extensive, should we choose to pay attention. It is meaningless to say that we want these problems to go away, unless we can admit that it is a matter of wealth redistribution that needs to take place, and that some simply have to give up their power and riches, in order that many more can be released from their torment. The disadvantaged should also find ways to divert violence away from themselves, and exert that force instead, on those who are more deserving of pressure and disruption.