Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: Liam Maguire
Director: Liam Maguire
Cast: Mark Paguio, Cecelia Peters, Rose Riley, Adam Sollis, Grace Victoria, Jacob Warner
Images by Matt Predny
Anna is sort of a charismatic cult leader, but she would of course never call herself that. Inside what might be termed a wellness facility, we meet a group of seekers, overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy, anxiety and narcissism, trying to attain a state of bliss, by surrendering themselves to the teachings of their Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike guru. Liam Maguire’s Shepherd is a self-effacing meditation on the disquiet of modern existence, with characters full of neurosis presenting a sardonic theatre that appeals to our most cynical selves.
Operating as both playwright and director, Maguire’s idiosyncratic humour shines through for a quirky style of show, delivering big laughs as well as ample opportunity for intellectual engagement. His mischievous approach reveals the people we have become, in what is now one of the world’s richest countries; seeing ourselves represented as complete idiots, is actually highly rewarding.
Although not an extravagant production, lights by Martin Kinnane and sound by Sam Maguire, work together to provide a polish that reflects the sophistication underpinning Shepherd. Their efforts combine to shift tensions and tone between each scene, so that we interpret the action from varying heights of comedy and drama, letting us in on the play’s intentions, in subtle subliminal ways.
The cast is extraordinarily funny, including a deadpan Adam Sollis, who as Mark utters just four words, but whose depictions of wilful ignorance proves unforgettable. Anna is played by Grace Victoria, who portrays quiet malice with a powerful sarcasm, and captivating flamboyance. Also very ostentatious is Cecelia Peters, an energetic and meticulous performer, whose exquisite timing and high campery as Elsa is a delicious highlight. Mark Paguio’s overwrought earnestness leaves a remarkable impression, for an irresistibly hilarious take on lost souls and their confused desperation. Rose Riley and Jacob Warner play a quarrelling couple, both actors intense and wonderfully ironic with the parody of romance that they bring to the stage,
Anna exploits these bewildered sheep, gaining money and power from those eager to give up agency and indulge in the comfort of blindly following a false god. The world can make us acutely aware of personal shortcomings, even though these ideas of lack, are rarely genuine. We need to learn to switch perspectives, and see that it is the economy and the ways we run society that are at fault. The structures we subsist under fail to accommodate our nature, and makes us feel as though we are the ones to be blamed for not being able to cope. It then sells us solutions to problems of its own creation, and sets us on a perpetual cycle of frustration and dissatisfaction. When we recognise that the system is not serving our purpose, radical measures must be taken.