Theatre that dares



By Stephen Sewell

East Coast Theatre Company

Directed by Joseph Uchitel

With Peter Phelps, Dee Smart and Julian Leather

Wharf Theatre, Sydney, until August 19

Reviewed by Allen Myers

For my money, Stephen Sewell is Australia's most challenging and stimulating playwright. His characters are real people, but the plays are battles of ideas. A Sewell play is always an adventure.

In Miranda, Sewell weaves a complex tapestry from the themes of politics, the morality of individual choice, love and the meaning of it all — if there is one. The action is played out in a hotel room somewhere in the Middle East over a single night between Frank, an embittered war correspondent (Phelps), and Madaline (Dee Smart), a woman who may be both more and less than she appears.

As the play opens, Frank and Madaline have just arrived at the hotel, straight from an embassy party where they met for the first time. Frank has a gun in his bag; Madaline has cocaine in hers. There is a great deal more than sex in the tension between them. (But choreographer Chrissie Koltai deserves an award for the sex scene.)

As Madaline and Frank explore each other and themselves, Sewell's powerful dialogue echoes with questions of good and evil, fate and personal responsibility. Phelps and Smart carry it off excellently in parts that would be difficult even if they weren't nude for much of the time.

This is the kind of daring theatre that isn't afraid to tackle big themes — what we've come to expect from Stephen Sewell. I saw the play in its second week; I'm told that in the first, it still had some rough edges. But diamonds always require polishing.