Saturday, May 27, 2023



Ruben Guthrie by Brendan Cowell.

Directed by Ryan Street.   Assistant director Annabelle Hansen, Producer Fiona Xu, Stage Manager Ro McPhee, Choreographer Amy McDonald, Props Ro McPhee and Annabelle Hansen, Photographer and videographer Jeremy Tsuei ,Sound design Ryan Street, Lighting design Ryan Street and Fiona Xu, Lighting technician and Graphic design Fiona Xu, Sound technician Ro McPhee, Video editing Ro McPhee and Ryan Street. Cast:  Sam Collingwood,Maxine Eayrs,Mischa Rippon,Grace Fletcher,Richard Manning,Adele Lewin,Anthony Mayne. Wander Theatre in collaboration with NUTS. ACT HUB. May 25-27 2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Maxine Eayrs as Virginia. Simon Collingwood as Ruben

 The secret to a successful launch of a new theatre company is to choose a play with real grit and a cast that is wedded to the characters and their circumstances, a director with a mission and a receptive audience that feels involved. Wander Theatre’s production of Brendan Cowell’s has all this in a most impressive debut at ACT HUB. Ruben Guthrie is a modern parable about the evils of addiction and alcohol in particular. It is also a warning 0f the causes and consequences of reliance on alcohol consumption.. Ruben Guthrie (Simon Collingwood) is a brilliant creative director of a top notch advertising agency, Subliminal, run by  advertising executive Ray (Richard Manning.) Success and wealth deal Guthrie a cocktail of booze and daredevilry when he tries to fly and falls off a hotel balcony. We meet him when the play opens with his arm in a sling, a bandaid across his forehead and his ego somewhat bruised but not beaten. After all, he is the invincible Ruben Guthrie with his fast cars, his flash apartment and his beautiful Czech supermodel Soya (Grace Fletcher) on his arm at all the big events.

Director Ryan Street sets his action between audience on two sides of the stage, subtly involving them  as participants in an AA meeting and later a Home Group run by the no nonsense hard truth hitting Virginia (Maxine Eayrs). However, it is only when Soya decides to leave Guthrie and return home to Europe that Guthrie promises to abstain from alcohol for a year in order to win Soya back. This is goal targeted therapy and an open door to temptation from boss Ray, advertising mate Damian (Mischa Rippon), recently returned from New York and his alcoholic father (Anthony Mayne) It is further complicated by his relationship with Virginia. Adele Lewin completes the scenario with her portrayal of Guthrie’s mother, obstinately in denial of her son’s addiction and fraught with the feelings of helplessness as Guthrie eventually descends into a self-destructive spiral.

Under Street’s purposeful direction, the production assumes an inevitability that provides the opportunities for redemption but is thwarted by the force of the addiction. In a final image set in the hospital Cowell ‘s relentless prophesy reveals a spectre of doom if the messages of hope are ignored. We are left to seriously question the efficacy of therapy and social intervention, when at every turn Guthrie is confronted by the power of temptation, revealed with chilling realism in the scene between Damian and Guthrie as he succumbs again to the euphoria of his addiction. If the fall from the roof was not enough, nor the loss of his true love, then Wander Theatre’s portrayal of Guthrie’s sacrificial fall and its deadly consequence should send shockwaves through anyone teetering perilously on the precipice of addiction.

Anthony Mayne as Dad. Simon Collingwood as Ruben

Street keeps the action fluid with cast moving wine racks for walls and furniture between scenes to an evocative song list. My only criticism is with the raked seating that afforded difficult sightlines to anyone further back than the second row. As most of the action was standing this helped to be involved in the performance. This involvement was also helped by strong casting. As the protagonist, Collingwood’s performance was riveting as he ran the rollercoaster gamut of emotion. Every scene echoes with raw reality in a production that is a highly commendable flagbearer for Wander Theatre. It is unfortunate that the season is so short. Ruben Guthrie is a play too important to ignore.