Misery Loves Company @ KXT On Broadway

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed opening night 8 May).

Opening night of Misery Loves Company was enjoyed by a glittering audience of who’s who in our theatre community. KXT On Broadway was packed to the rafters with this story of a middle-aged woman’s funeral, set in 1977 Ireland during an interlude of respite from civil unrest.

A statement from KXT informs us that this production is dedicated to recovery aid in Palestine (see donation link at the end of this review). It is followed by an explosive rush of characters singing a celebratory song for the deceased, Daphne, whose smiling portrait watches us from a large wooden frame propped on an easel next to her coffin. Who this woman was and her secrets will be revealed throughout the play.

After the song rush, the traverse stage invites us into the Glynnes’ living room where Daphne’s father, Pa George, stares vacantly off in the distance. Father John narrates the scene and gives a backstory about the disasters that shaped it. From the get go every line and quip lands with the audience with a huge laugh. The laughter only intensifies as the humour becomes more contagious.

The script by Sydney playwright Isabella Reid was written when she was just 17, inspired by her own Irish roots. The characters thus feel very tangible and real beyond caricature.

Pa George (Mark Langham) is perhaps the most identifiable family member, a man fading into dementia but can still remember a tune. He watches the chaos of his daughter’s wake with a bewildered expression, and something of his quiet, perhaps stoic demeanour reflects our own desire for equilibrium. A beautiful and honest performance.

Meanwhile the rest of the family members can only be described as neurotic and dysfunctional, played by a calibre of actors not afraid to reveal their inner scary clown. Dolores (Linda Nicholls-Gidley) is Daphne’s stubborn, opinionated sister with an appetite for younger men. Dolores’ daughter Niamh (Rachel Seeto) is a brooding, rebellious, punk chick who hisses at her creepy cousin Cecila (Lib Campbell). Cecila’s brother Ernie (Clay Crighton) is a hyperactive child (perhaps on the spectrum?) who squirms and spasms all over the loungeroom floor. Jackie (Annie Stafford), daughter of Daphne is trying to keep it together while defending the brooch that will be reverently placed on her mother’s coffin. Henry (Paul Grabovac), Dolores’ husband, is obsessed with kickstarting a charity. Father John (Michael Yore) has a great deal of pastoral charm as does the caretaker, Jasper (Teale Howie) who is seduced by Cecila’s come-hither eyes.

Rounding out the cast is a busker called Gus (Lincoln Elliott) playing a nonsensical variation of The Rattling Bog and other folk tunes.

Pacing wise, the energy bounces around the stage like an exciting ball game. There is slapping between family members and water assault. The random commentary by Father John keeps the play in the hilarious fourth-wall zone.

Breaking the noise and chaos are folk songs full of loving memories that bring the pace back to a meditative reverence.

Mathew Lee’s directorial choices are spot on; he knows his cast and how to mine their talents for pathos, comedy and musicality. The chaos is tempered by heartwarming emotional beats; a difficult arc to achieve but is orchestrated flawlessly.

The Irish accents (coached by Felicity Jurd) are a mellifluous delight; every word and action is crystal clear which might have become garbled or confusing in less experienced hands.

The setting and props by Ruby Jenkins creates an intimate, cozy setting while allowing the actors to occupy their territory on stage. The vintage photographs and aesthetics creates an authentic atmosphere of being present in the family home, as does the coffin that becomes a running sight gag.

Lighting nuances by Tyler Fitzpatrick are expertly on cue, changing from a bright amber light to lowlight. Red hues bring a hellish vibe to the cousins’ brawl like alleyway cats.

Misery Loves Company is a superb comedy and a well-told story about grief, loss and fractured family gatherings. We can only hope our own funeral is as outrageously funny as this one.

Misery Loves Company presented by Legit Theatre Company in association with Bakehouse Theatre Company is playing at KXT On Broadway til 18 May. For tickets and showtimes, go to https://www.kingsxtheatre.com/misery-loves-company

To donate to Palestine Australia Relief and Action (PARA), follow: @Para.Foundation 

Images: Clare Hawley

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