Wicked Sisters. By Alma De Groen. Directed by Tony Turner. papermoon theatre. Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre. Bookings (02) 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au. Until May 18.
Welcome back to papermoon theatre, a company that originated in the now defunct ANU Drama Department as a way of ensuring that students and staff had access to practical theatre opportunities. Audiences will be happy to continue benefiting, too.
A strong and tough play in Alma de Groen's Wicked Sisters was chosen for this resurrection.
Four women in their 50s reunite in a Blue Mountains house. There's the elegant Judith (Alice Ferguson) who works in public relations, and the rather brash real estate agent Lydia (Nikki Lynne Hunter), who seems to have quite a post-divorce love life. The house belongs to Meridee (Elaine Noon), whose scientist husband Alec has recently died after a struggle with Alzheimer's.
Enter Hester (Lainie Hart) seems to have led a feckless life of activism with not much to show for it since being Alec's student.
This initially sounds like a nice bit of social comedy might be coming up. But the slightly sinister huge computer left by Alec after he fell from an unfenced Blue Mountains lookout hints at more.
Alec's simulated "world" on that computer continues to evolve, sometimes violently, despite his death. No one is to touch the computer, only the university.
Noon's somewhat repressed Meridee looks like she's trapped by her dead husband's ongoing work.
Shades of George Eliot's Middlemarch?
She might have invited the others in order to find a solution.
It would be a pity to reveal the directions all of this takes.
The result is an increasingly tense and convoluted piece that is given an absorbing workout as secrets are revealed and moralities of various kinds are questioned.
Ferguson convincingly reveals what Judith has suppressed, Hunter has a deal of fun with the growing suspicion that Lydia's love life might be built on sand and Hart's performance as the rather wild Hester clearly reveals the pain that came from Alec's appropriation of the work of another. Noon's tense Meridee starts quietly and only gradually reveals her real dilemma.
The four performers make an excellent team and the laughs come often, at least early in the play.
The cast handles shifts of tone and the revealing of a few grim truths with aplomb.
The setting is economical except for that huge computer. Alec's world seems full of aggression and one of the play's strengths is in the way De Groen questions this.