Live theatre makes a welcome return to Theatre 3 with Canberra Rep's finely staged production of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs. Beautifully and sensitively directed by Karen Vickery, Simon's semi-autobiographical account of a Jewish family in New York's Brooklyn is the ideal choice to launch Rep's revival after a hiatus of several months due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on live theatre.
In staging this coming-of-age play about 15-year-old Eugene Jerome and his immediate and extended family members, living together in the same house, Canberra Rep has taken all necessary precautions. They have ensured the presentation for a limited audience of Rep's outstanding production of Simon's first play in his Eugene Trilogy.
The success of Simon's funny, heart-warming and tender play pivots on the performance of young Eugene, who acts as narrator throughout the drama. Jamie Boyd gives a remarkable performance with commanding onstage presence. With the natural ease of an accomplished actor, he creates the world of the teenager on the brink of puberty, obsessed with baseball, dreaming of becoming a writer and infatuated with lustful fascination for his 16-year-old cousin.
His commentary on family struggles, personality disputes, household customs and sibling relationships reveals a family battling to cope with life's challenges in 1937.
Rep's production reverberates with relevance as our world confronts the threat of the current pandemic and tests human resilience. Brighton Beach Memoirs holds a mirror up to Nature and through the reflection of a Jewish family in America reveals the struggles that resonate with our own lives.
Vickery strives for authenticity. Set designer Chris Baldock and costume designer Anna Senior realise Vickery's vision and the era of Simon's memory play with a striking set design and superbly researched and executed costumes of the period.
Sound designer Neville Pye's musical underscore and Stephen Still's lighting design imbue the production with atmosphere and Rep's production team once again excels with professional expertise.
Vickery is the epitome of an actor's director. Every performance in this production exudes the authentic character of a family caught up in the circumstance of their lives.
Victoria Dixon is thoroughly convincing as Eugene's Jewish mother, struggling to cope with the pressures of maintaining the household. Amy Crawford as the widowed sister offers a moving performance as the overwhelmed mother of two daughters, the ailing Laurie (Ella Buckley) and her sister Nora (Caitlin Baker), who longs to perform on Broadway.
James McMahon is especially impressive as Eugene's older brother Stanley and Paul Sweeney gives an utterly believable performance as the father, attempting to provide balance and resolution during the moments of conflict.
Simon holds a mirror up to all our lives. The Jerome family is like any other family, challenged by conflict and bound together by love. Moments of high tension are dissolved with a masterly touch of Simon's sharply timed comic line.
Ultimately, it is love that survives and Rep's triumphant production of Brighton Beach Memoirs is a shining example of the quality of family love and the power of resilience.
If it were not for COVID-19 restrictions, this production would be playing to packed houses and deservedly so.
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