Sydney Festival: The Fence

Further Sydney Festival fun last night: a play called The Fence.

We took the train to Parramatta – my first time in that neighbourhood – got some dinner (they’ve got a nice Meat & Wine Co. out there) and went to the Riverside Theatre. That was only the starting point, though: we were ushered down the river, into an alley, and through some backyards to a purpose-built backyard. It was an excellent reproduction of a house – open at the back wall to allow viewing – and yard, with seats staged for the ticketholders. We watched the production, outdoors in the dying evening light, supplied with bug spray, as if we were hiding in the backyard of the home. It gave them a realistic and wide-ranging stage on which to act, with the interior kitchen and lounge, a shed, and the lawn.

The play was about middle-aged Sydney folk who – triggered by the arrival of someone absent many years – come into conflict from the pressures of the past. It seemed really well-received by the assembled crowd. The acting was very good, and I quite liked each of the performances, which didn’t seem archetypal or cliched.

But I felt it was a bit melodramatic, and the plot seemed familiar: someone from the past shows up, old memories are stirred, people come into conflict because they take their frustration and hurt out on each other. Haven’t we seen that sort of family drama plenty of times before?

What bugged me most were the little musical interludes: a handful of times the scenes would stop, people would retreat to dark corners, and a song would be played (either by one of the cast, or recorded). I suppose it was meant to give the audience time to pause and reflect, as there was no intermission. But I found that they were little spots of twee surreality that yanked me right out of what was otherwise – especially with the very concrete staging – a strongly realistic play. And it wasn’t the tunes, either: Steve Miller’s “The Joker”, Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor” and Johnny Cash doing Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” are some of my favourite songs. The little steps into a parallel music-world just didn’t work for me.

So: loved the staging and acting, not crazy about the story and musical breaks. I think my view might be the minority from last night, though, as most folks seemed to very much like it.

The Fence


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