Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 20 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Lewis Trenton
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Mathew Cooper, Roman Delo, Celia Ireland, Melissa Kahraman, Andrew McFarlane, Ryan Panizza
Images by Prudence Upton
Elliott is leaving Brisbane to work in Sydney, and also to find a rich husband, because his mother Bernice has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a catfishing incident. Much like the Jane Austen oeuvre, from which it takes inspiration, Lewis Trenton’s Hubris & Humiliation is on some levels an examination of class, and on others a frivolous romantic romp. Its plot may unravel to a flimsy conclusion, but the journey is nonetheless satisfying, with witty dialogue and fabulously observed characters, making for a truly wonderful time at the theatre.
Direction by Dean Bryant is unabashedly campy, but laced with an acerbic edge to prevent any sense of hollow affectation. His show is relentlessly effervescent, amusing at every turn, often dazzling with genuine hilarity. Set design by Isabel Hudson is suitably ostentatious, with a commendable versatility that accommodates the play’s many location changes. Hudson’s costumes are brightly hued, to keep our eyes sated and occupied. Lights by Alexander Berlage provide amplification to the brassy quality of the piece, but are also effective at delivering emotional tenderness when required. There is an elegant restraint to Matthew Frank’s sound and music, able to facilitate action and elicit responses, but careful to remain unobtrusive.
Extraordinary work by the cast of Hubris & Humiliation makes it an utterly memorable experience. Elliott is played by Roman Delo, whose exceptional instincts bring impressive elevation to a role that could easily be perceived as banal. Delo’s confident charisma is the unequivocal lynchpin, of this staging’s success. Ryan Panizza plays dual roles Warren and William with conviction, offering strong counterpoint to Elliott’s incorruptibility.
Women performers steal the show, along with our hearts, in a range of supporting parts that give depth and substance, to the irrepressible comedy. Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Celia Ireland and Melissa Kahraman are inventive and joyful, each demonstrating their own admirable talents, in the exalted art of mirthful storytelling. Matthew Cooper and Andrew MacFarlane create fascinating personalities that address our need for progressive versions of masculinity, in this tale of new unions and modern sexualities.
It is funny how we care so much about the sex lives of others. This need to probe and police what people do in private, is however no laughing matter, with many having suffered persecution through the ages, for not following the rules. Hubris & Humiliation takes place not in Austen’s Regency era, but in the here and now, and to see everyone free to make new rules in its emancipatory narrative, is gratifying. Nothing should hold us back from life’s infinite pleasures, as long as we stick to the simple principle, that no one gets hurt, and that enthusiastic consent remains integral to every kind of sexy.