Monday, July 16, 2018


Toby Truslove as Harry Joy
in Bliss

Photography by Pia Johnson

Bliss by Peter Carey.  Adapted for the stage by Tom Wright.  Belvoir & Malthouse Theatre at Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, June 9 – July 15, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 14

Cast: Marco Chiappi (Alex Duvall and others); Mark Coles Smith (Joel Davis and others);  Will McDonald  (David Joy and others); Amber McMahon (Bettina Joy and others);  Charlotte Nicdao (Lucy Joy and others);   Susan Prior (Alice Dalton and others); Anna Samson (Honey Barbara and others);  Toby Truslove (Harry Joy)

Bliss is an unreal play.  If you are my age, which is about the same age as Peter Carey, who was about the same as Harry Joy was when Peter Carey published his first and I think best novel in 1981, then you know what I mean when I say the novel, and even more this stage adaptation is ‘unreal’.  A bit later in time (‘unreal’ was first recorded in 1965) Harry Joy’s daughter Lucy might have said ‘gas’.

Nowadays, ‘cool’ doesn’t cut it  This show is full on.  I can’t say, don’t miss it – because you already have in Sydney.  And in Melbourne too (May 4 – June 2).  What a bummer!

Charlotte Nicdao as Lucy Joy, Anna Samson as Honey Barbara, Toby Truslove as Harry Joy
in Bliss

So, why would you want to see a show about a weird kind of 1970’s adman, sort of naïve about making money (reminds me of the 2007 Mad Men tv series set in the 1960s).  But Harry Joy dies three times, by my count. 

Nearly, when he has his heart attack and wakes up in what he thinks is hell – that is his old life.  More metaphorically when his wife Bettina (now the kids are grown up) turns out to be better at running a business than he had ever been, and drags him back into advertising.  That’s when the image of Honey Barbara draws him away to the rainforest.

And finally for real, when the gum tree he had planted in his blissful forest retreat drops a branch on him in old age while he works in his garden.

It’s all about Australia, you see.  Or perhaps you don’t – yet.  It’s certainly all about Peter Carey, who escaped from a 20 year career in advertising  (and mainly short story writing) until his The Fat Man in History got him noticed (1974) and Bliss made him a celebrity.  So why since 1990 has he lived in New York?  Not the seductive rainforest like Harry Joy?

I guess this is the Australian bit.  Harry Joy’s retreat to the world of nature is actually unreal.  His being recognised by Honey Barbara at the climactic point in the play as essentially honest in his naif kind of way, and so she loves him for genuinely being himself – this is the quality of being Australian.  Even though the gum tree, being equally itself, drops a branch and kills you.

And as for the work of adapting the novel by Tom Wright, directing by Matthew Lutton, designing by Marg Howell (Set & Costume), Paul Jackson (Lighting), Stefan Gregory (Composer and Sound), and all the cast – it is exactly this Australian quality that makes this production unreal. It has life, energy and honesty.  And, for us, even though we know about widow-maker gum trees, we leave the theatre on a high note.

The story is about truth in art.  This production of Bliss is truly art.

Charlotte Nicdao as Lucy Joy, Amber McMahon as Bettina Joy, Anna Samson as Honey Barbara
in Bliss