Saturday, April 29, 2023




Crimes of the Heart

Written by Beth Hanley. Directed by Karen Vickery. Assistant director Liz de Totth. Theatre 3. Canberra Repertory Society. April 28 to May 13 2023. Bookings: or 02 6257 1950

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Carmen King as Lenny, Meaghan Stewart as Meg,Ella Buckley as Babe

Under Karen Vickery’s sharply intuitive direction, Canberra Rep has staged a finely observed and utterly absorbing production of Beth Henley’s bitter sweet drama Crimes of the Heart”. Set in the small Mississippi town of Hazlehurst , Crimes of the Heart tells the story of the three Magrath sisters, Lenny (Carmen King), Babe (Ella Buckley) and Meg (Meaghan Stewart) The play opens with Lenny alone on stage plaintively blowing out a candle to celebrate her 30th birthday. Vickery directs the action as a moment of clowning by the sad clown, creating a sense of isolation and pathos. It is typical of the moments of comic absurdity that permeate the lives of the three sisters. The sisters’ granddaddy, who has looked after the sisters since their father left home and their mother suicided has suffered a stroke and the women have gathered at the family home. Each bears the burden of their private demons. Lenny is unable to bear children. Meg’s singing career has faltered and Babe is out on bail after having shot her abusive husband in the stomach and is facing a term behind bars.

Kathleen Dawe as Chiki Doyle and Carmen King as Lenny

On the surface, it could appear that this is a drama about a dysfunctional Southern family, but Vickery, assisted by Liz de Totth, and her excellent cast extract every ounce of empathy as we realize that they are the victims of circumstance, confronted by private torment and yet reaching out for comfort and consolation from each other. What may be regarded as frailty by their judgemental neighbour Chiki Doyle (Kathleen Dawe) assumes the poignant reality of the human condition. Lenny battles her insecurity and longing for a relationship. Babe struggles to come to terms with her actions while Meg fabricates an alternative reality to battle the grim spectre of failure. And yet in spite of the differences, in spite of the arguments and in spite of the obstacles from outside forces, Lenny and Babe and Meg are bound by the bonds of sisterhood, so that Henley’s play is ultimately a vision of hope and an affirmation of family. 

Ty McKenzie as Barnette. Ella Buckley as Babe

The play lasts for more than two hours plus an interval, but every moment of this drama is absorbing, sometimes funny sometimes sad, occasionally tragic, always realistic and often  turning the mirror upon our own lives. It is also heartwarming. In spite of their weaknesses we feel for the characters. Although minor supporting roles, we have compassion for Robbie Haltiner’s Doc, the one time lover of Meg and now married with two kids and lacking the drive to realize his dream to pursue a medical career. Even lawyer. Barnette Lloyd, played with understated authenticity by Rep newcomer Tye McKenzie is consumed by a personal vendetta. We laugh at Dawes’ portrayal of the unlikeable and opinionated Doyle, marred only by the occasional incomprehensible  upstage delivery of her heavily  pronounced Southern accent. The success of this production of Crimes of the Heart is that we are compelled to care. Henley’s play is a cornucopia of issues and it is to the credit of cast and creatives that the audience becomes immersed in the lives of each and every character.

Robbie Haltiner as Doc, Meaghan Stewart as Meg

Vickery asks of her actors truthful performance and depth of insight into the complex lives of their characters. Her cast deliver with a keen sense of individuality that defines the differences that set them apart  and the similarities that bring them together. One has the sense that Henley’s first professionally produced play is in part autobiographical or at least inspired by her keen observation of human experience. It is this that Vickery and her actors so effectively capture in Rep’s production.

Rep has produced a highly polished and entertaining production of Crimes of the Heart. Vickery and her cast capture the conflicts, nuances and ultimate bond of love that affirm the solidarity of family and sisterhood. Rep’s usual highly professional production values are again evident in Michael Sparks’s detailed set design, constructed under Russell Brown’s experienced guidance,Cate Clelland’s costumes, Neville Pye’s sound design, Mike Moloney’s lighting and Simon Tolhurst’s production management, all achieved with the assistance of a committed and capable team.

All in all, this is a production that does Rep proud and attests to the important role that Rep plays in the cultural life of the capital. The dedicated team that has brought Crimes of the Heart to the Rep stage may be amateur in title but thoroughly professional in execution. Don’t miss this outstanding production of Beth Henley’s bitter sweet family saga.

Photos by Karina Hudson