Sweet Phoebe

Celebration Theatre, Hagley Park, Christchurch

12/07/2011 - 22/07/2011

Production Details

Appearing at Canterbury Celebration Theatre after a sell out season at The Loons in Lyttelton.

A superb dark comedy by Australian Playwright Michael Gow. It exposes the fragility of the seemingly perfect marriage. Helen and Frazer live both a fashionable and highly-ordered life until they agree to “doggy-sit” for friends who go away on a “love making” course in the Blue Mountains.

What seems at first an easy favour inevitably renders an unexpected turn of events laying bare uncomfortable discoveries and realisations for the “perfect” couple who have it all.

Originally performed at the Sydney Theatre Company with Cate Blanchett and Colin Moody, Scriptease Productions has bought together
Ben ChildsandRachel Walshfresh from the successful season of Angels in America by Tony Kushner to star in this very funny piece that will appeal to all who have perhaps in their life at one time or another forgotten all sensible priorities!

Contains coarse language.
Approximate running time 1 hour 30 minutes

With a special appearance by Isaac as Phoebe !

6pm shows: Tuesday 12 July, Sunday 17 July, Thursday 21 July, Friday 22 July
8.30pm shows: Wednesday 13 July, Thursday 14 July  

Tortuous but very funny

Review by Erin Harrington 14th Jul 2011

Helen (Rachel Walsh), a designer, and Frazer (Sam Mannering), an advertising executive, seem to be living the perfectly ordered life of the perfect yuppie couple. She likes clean uninterrupted surfaces, he is frustrated because he is unable to stand up to his boss; they have his and hers Macbooks and she efficiently answers her phone in the middle of foreplay; they both want to live to their “full potential” and repeat, like a mantra, “we’re better together”.

The united front only lasts until they are asked to dog-sit a miniature schnauzer called Phoebe for friends who are off on a “love making” course. The initial novelty of a furry child-substitute quickly dissipates when Phoebe runs away, and the couple are forced to comb the city for the dog before the owners return. Marital, workplace and personal tensions quickly escalate as the search for the dog takes on an increasing urgency and the various cold trails lead to people and places that both reflect and undermine their teetering relationship. 

Sweet Phoebe is a difficult two hander and the actors manage the script’s rapid fire dialogue and lyrical monologues well. Walsh proves herself to be an hilarious and physically adept character actor – all bouffant hair, precarious heels, bright red lipstick and Type A personality, she glares at the audience and her husband, trying to keep her life in order through sheer wilfulness.

Mannering presents as neurotic but slightly more grounded than Helen. He plays an initially low-key and considered (but harried) foil, but only starts to match Walsh’s manic focus and sharp characterisation once pressures begin to mount. Perhaps because of this, the relationship between the two does not entirely ring true in the opening scenes, and this somewhat undermines the play’s emotional climax and the pathos of its resolution.

The living room set is sparse, clean and (initially) ordered, mirroring the couple’s aesthetic tastes and their carefully maintained ‘perfect’ marriage. The music, drawn from Hitchcock’s Psycho, is too loud but aptly expresses the play’s mounting tensions while also indicating that Phoebe, like the bag of money in the film, is but a MacGuffin – she drives the action but is ultimately irrelevant in and of herself.

The scene transitions and abrupt lighting changes are rhythmic and almost filmic in their swiftness, although this rhythm was marred by what felt like an unnecessary interval. The performance space at the Canterbury Celebration Theatre is intimate and initially cosy, but by the end of the play the actors’ and the audience’s breaths were steaming – be sure to wear a warm jacket!

Despite feeling a little uneven, Sweet Phoebe is an engaging and blackly written portrayal of a relationship in crisis, and once it gets going it is compelling viewing. “How tortuous!” intoned a woman behind me. Tortuous, but also very funny.
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