Where's My Money? ★★½
Cracked Actors Theatre until December 20
Live theatre has returned to Melbourne.
Staged at a new venue on Albert Park Lake, this indie production of John Patrick Shanley’s Where’s My Money? is the first play I’ve seen in the flesh since March, and despite an audience reduced by social distancing, the room was abuzz with excitement to be back in the vicinity of footlights and greasepaint.
If your relationship has been tested by a double-dose of lockdown, you might be primed for the vicious cynicism about love and marriage Shanley’s black comedy unleashes.
It begins with casual cruelty at a reunion between two unlikely friends. Celeste (Heather Bloom) is an out-of-work actress with a limp. She confides to Natalie (Catherine Ward) that she’s having a violent, sadomasochistic affair to escape the disinterest of her stoner husband.
Natalie, an accountant, gives a callous assessment of Celeste’s predicament, her tirade interrupted by the appearance of a ghost. Even someone as mean as Natalie, it seems, is haunted by lost love.
Natalie’s past indiscretion is revealed in a claustrophobic scene of domestic frustration with her husband Henry (Alexander Lloyd). He, in turn, seeks the advice of a divorce lawyer friend (Hayden Burke), whose toxic misogyny has led to a volcanic accumulation of resentment in his own wife (Clare Hayes).
And around it goes, in a production that generates schadenfreude at the sheer nastiness on display.
It has been staged five metres from the seating bank for COVID safety, so it’s a good thing the play’s invective is supercharged. And you admire the gusto with which the couples go hammer and tongs at each other.
Whether these characters are requisitely humanised under the grotesque veneer – whether the play generates comic catharsis, or just exploits lurid human behaviour for entertainment – is a different question.
Certainly, the performances are worth watching. They are heightened and horrible without entirely succumbing to caricature, and the pace and modulation of the acting has benefitted from a longer-than-usual rehearsal period.
The distance from the audience and rudimentary set design, though, make both visual depth and a sense of immersion an elusive prospect. Tearing down the fourth wall occasionally worked well, and the production is still diverting.
But more sophisticated direction – steering with greater agility between psychological realism and heightened excursions into the surreal – seems required to unlock the play’s full comedic potential.
Even so, the show’s flaws did nothing to diminish the sense of relief and gratitude at being back inside a theatre.