Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed opening night 11 January)
Sophia is suffixed in the word philosophy. It is this name birthed in ancient wisdom that inspires the mood, tone and title of this play. With an abstract title, it is, ironically, predictable and logical that an abstract premise should follow, and it does. Richard Foreman’s landmark play is hailed by many as a “masterpiece” for eschewing the conventions of theatre, though, to quote Foreman himself (as he does many times throughout the play), one should avoid the danger of being too decorative early on with compliments. Especially when we are debating whether a work of art is interesting.
Foreman’s play as directed by Patrick Kennedy certainly is interesting. Visually, it is colourful and stimulating, like children’s toys dangling over a bassinet. It is not immediately clear whether it is supposed to be “about” something. It is a philosophical abstraction of ideas about relationships, and examination of identity through motives, impulses, noise, cue cards, voiceovers, and lots of sound effects like buzzers and pings. We hear samples from iconic celebrity interviews. Like Lennon’s Revolution 9 , the play is born from an era that wants to experiment, escape from convention and express organic ideas and impulses which are unconditioned by frameworks of social conformity. It is not purposely designed to make you feel uncomfortable, but it does take you out of your comfort zone. The show’s program states:
Rhoda, a local artist in Potatoland, is struggling to keep her relationship with her husband Max interesting. In a nightmarish dreamscape, she conjures replica versions of themselves, inviting them into their home through the spiritual invocation of Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom. When this second Rhoda and this second Max enter their cliffside home, Rhoda is forced to decide between whether to confront or to flee the mayhem she has introduced. Only the abominable snowman and a group of factory workers stand in the way of her escape.
Personally, as much as I wanted to surrender to the moment and stay invested in this uniquely abstract storytelling, Act 1 (70 minutes) followed by Act 2 (40 minutes) was quite challenging for my logical, rational mind. My intellect kept demanding “an explanation”. Afterwards, a rabbit hole of post-show research was quite intriguing to follow (you can start with this excellent thesis by Patrick A. White).
For those who prefer conventional theatre with a clear narrative, Sophia=(Wisdom): The Cliffs might feel a bit ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, but it is an excellent and intriguing production all the same that commits to radically surreal groundbreaking choices. And that…is interesting.
Sophia=(Wisdom): The Cliffs is playing at New Theatre until 27 January 2024. For tickets and showtimes, go to https://newtheatre.org.au/sophiawisdom-the-cliffs/
Images: Daniel Boud