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Theatre review: Day One. A Hotel, Evening

Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s latest show has hit the stage in Melbourne for its world premiere. Here's Mary-Lou Ciampa's review.

He: bare-chested, fastening his trousers. She: immaculate, looping on her earrings.  Engaged in post-coital chit-chat, they openly discuss their alternative (and now long-abandoned) rendez-vous.

It would be safe to assume we’re witnessing lovers cheating on their significant others. But you’d be wrong. And it takes a few scenes before this clicks.

Intended as a bit of fun to help playwright Joanna Murray-Smith fight her way through writer’s block, this play has been described by director Gary Abrahams as ‘the sweet little something to finish off a meal that has been . . . rich, savoury, meaty and challenging’, referring to its programming as the Red Stitch’s 2011 season finale.

It’s a freshly-minted piece, with Murray-Smith deciding Red Stitch would be the venue for the world premiere. And it is tremendous fun.

Displaying the same incisive, take-no-prisoners social commentary that is evident in Murray-Smith’ s earlier works like Female of the Species and Bombshells, Day One. A Hotel, Evening is a tightly-written farce that is well-suited to this intimate theatre space.

The rapid-fire dialogue, swift scene changes and mixing and matching of couples keep things motoring along.

With 25 scenes in 90 minutes – no interval – there’s a lot to take in. So you’ll need to pay attention.

The cast is the trademark blend of company and guest actors.

Leading the charge is company stalwart Dion Mills, who seems to relish the sliminess of his role as Sam. Guest actors John Adam and Ryan Hayward each imbue their character with their own brand of quirkiness: Adam’s Tom  is particularly pathetic, while Hayward’s dark and mysterious Ray provides the voice of reason.

It’s a delight to see the feline Kate Cole back, slinking across the Red Stitch stage after a couple of years trying her luck overseas.  Here’s hoping her turn as the sophisticated and duplicitous Madeleine – who is described as ‘Satan decorated in violets’ – means we’ll be seeing more of her around town.

Recent addition to the Red Stitch fold, Anna Samson, has had a busy first year with the company. Here she gets to play the nubile object of every man’s affections, Rose, which she does with deadpan emotionlessness – although this may have a little to do with the character’s underdevelopment in the script. Sarah Sutherland is acerbic as ever as artist Stella – one of the few characters in this piece not knee-deep in extra-marital affairs.

Abrahams, resident dramaturge, has displayed a lightness of touch, allowing the script to speak for itself. His direction allows for minimal set changes, ensuring the rhythm and pace are unbroken.

Despite its contemporary references, there is a distinct ‘old-worldly’ flavour to the text – at least in part. To wit, Rose’s line: I rarely discuss my foliage with people I barely know. Or Madeleine’s ‘I want a man who can rob a bank stylishly’.

It’s underworldly Ray who insists on bringing us back to reality, reminding us that, ‘if what we’ve got doesn’t cost us anything, then what’s it worth?’ His is the voice of reason, at times unwelcome and unnecessary in this comedy of manners on love and fidelity or a lack thereof.

Yes, the moralising in this play – which generally comes from this hitman-with-a-heart – does feel a little heavy-handed. But it seeks to balance the hi-jinks and implausibility of the other goings-on.

Day One. A Hotel, Evening is playing at Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda, until December 17.

Mary-Lou Ciampa is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at La Trobe University, and upstart’s co-editor. You can follow her on Twitter: @zialulu

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