Monday, August 20, 2012

'THE FLOOD'

By Jackie Smith

The Street Theatre until 25 August.

Reviewed by Len Power

Playwright, Jackie Smith, certainly set herself a challenge to write an Australian Gothic play which chills an audience with monstrous circumstances arising out of a mundane situation.

‘The Flood’ is set on a sheep farm in rural NSW in 1999.  After twenty two years absence, an estranged sister arrives during heavy rain to visit her older sister and elderly mother.  Her visit appears to be unwelcome but she is unable to leave when the rising river cuts off the road.  The stage is set for a night of unpredictable and worrying revelations.

On an atmospheric set credited to ‘The Sisters Hayes’ and designer Kathryn Sproul and with excellent and, at times disturbing, sound effects by Natasha Anderson, we are drawn into this isolated world from which there is no immediate escape.

As the mother, Shirley Cattunar gives a great performance as a woman who may or may not be suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  Her unexpected recitation of a few lines from Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Kraken’, creates a strong feeling of dread early in the play.  As the estranged daughter, Catherine, Caroline Lee is initially nervous and fluttery but shows she is made of sterner stuff as the play progresses.  Maude Davey as the older sister, Dorothy, portrays a bitter woman who is not as tough as she wants the world to believe.  All three performances are very real and draw you completely into the play.

Laurence Strangio, the director, ensures that the tension never lets up.  He builds on the atmosphere slowly and carefully, keeping the pace of the play at the right level to make sure that every moment rings true.  The danger with a chiller like this is pushing just a bit too much and tipping it over into melodrama.  Laurence Strangio has made sure that this doesn’t happen.

This is only Jackie Smith’s second full length play.  She has captured the voices of the characters perfectly and constructed a plot that is original, thought-provoking and entertaining, as well as being quite nerve-wracking.  It’s different to other Australian plays and it’s good to see such original writing, particularly in a genre that’s difficult to bring off successfully.  This play works superbly.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 19 August 2012

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