On The Beach – REVIEW

On The Beach – REVIEW
Image: ON THE BEACH by Sydney Theatre Company. Photo: Daniel Boud
The Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production, On the Beach, is a play from a book first published over 60 years ago that contains themes and warnings that still resonate today.

Anglo/Australian author Nevil Shute’s novel was an international best seller later adapted into an  American film shot in Australia with a high profile cast and director.

ON THE BEACH by Sydney Theatre Company. Photo: Daniel Boud

The plot for both book and film revolves around the experiences of a group of people in Melbourne awaiting the fallout of a radiation cloud created by a disastrous nuclear war triggered by minor state players.  It has engulfed the northern hemisphere and is now spreading across the equator, taking all human life with it.

At first the players are in the belief that they are safe from the conflagration but, slowly, evidence of the deadly cloud emerges and each person must deal with the impending end of life in their different ways.

ON THE BEACH by Sydney Theatre Company. Photo: Daniel Boud

Now realised for the stage by director Kip Williams from a commissioned adaptation by Tommy Murphy, On the Beach has lost nothing of its impact, as the cloud could also be representative of climate change, a pandemic such as the recent Covid outbreak or the current situation in Ukraine.

Williams opens the play with a beach scene on a bare stage flanked by three white drapes that are slowly taken over by another drape moving downstage to represent the spread of the cloud.

ON THE BEACH by Sydney Theatre Company. Photo: Daniel Boud

The sheer beauty and impact of this moment is a credit to the ingenuity and the close artistic collaboration between set designer Michael Hankin and lighting designer Damien Cooper, with their work providing great scenes throughout the play.

The stage contains a revolve on which a large bench that serves as a pier, a party scene and a submarine is set.

Underscoring this is the subtle and at times ominous string-based score by composer Grace Ferguson, complemented by Jessica Dunn’s sound design.

ON THE BEACH by Sydney Theatre Company. Photo: Daniel Boud

Costume designer Mel Page has taken her cues from the early sixties, when the play is set, and has clothed the cast in uncomplicated but often striking outfits, with particular care being taken in the authenticity of the military outfits.

The character of Moira (Contessa Treffone) gets to shine in her various cocktail dresses, while managing a highly comedic moment when she has a bikini malfunction in front of Commander Towers (Tai Hara), who she is trying to seduce.

As Towers, Hara has the most formed role, as his character has to come to terms with the loss of his family, while being bombarded by Moira’s advances.

ON THE BEACH by Sydney Theatre Company. Photo: Daniel Boud

He must also decide if he will risk his submarine and crew to investigate the origins of a weak radio signal, and hopefully find hope for humanity.

Other roles taking on closer examination are those of Peter Holmes (Ben O’Toole) and his wife Mary (Michelle Lim Davidson), who have a child and want a future, against all odds.

Many actors take on multiple roles, including Vanessa Downing, Tony Cogin, Matthew Backer, Emma Diaz, Elijah Williams and Alan Zhu.

Two children, Genevieve Lee and Kiki Wales will alternate in the role of Child.

Murphy has stayed close to the original characters and plot, but has infused it with his very original sense of humour and humanity that delivers some truly comedic scenes in this very dark plot.

Williams has realised a great looking production but also one that fails in parts due to the theatre’s large stage that robs the actors of intimacy, or, in the submarine scenes, a sense of claustrophobia.

On the Beach is a production of great moments rather than a whole, but they still add up to a moving theatrical experience.

Until August 12

Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay




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