This is a funny play about a dog called Sylvia, ebulliently played by Alexandria Avery. Well, it is really about relationship. And anthropomorphism.
I first saw this play many years ago at the MTC starring a young Rachel Griffiths. She was so brilliant you knew she was headed for stardom. In a tiny space, we were very close to ‘Sylvia’ and could almost feel every gesture.
I appreciate that the Peridot theatre is large, seating 200, but it would have been terrific to experience this production as a smaller theatre in the round. Avery was adorable from the moment she appeared on stage; clever acting and direction almost convinced us that she was a four-legged actor.
Susan Rundle is a multi talented creative – ballet dancer, actor, director, set designer, aesthetic, and mentor to many actors. Avery isn’t a dog owner, so Rundle spent time on the floor showing dog behaviour. Moments when the dog got caught up in the lead, pawed her man, or had an itchy bottom were cleverly choreographed. Clearly a dog lover, Rundle dressed the foyer with animal pamphlets and dog associations. Rundle’s dogs provided some inspiration; Cooper the Bulldog and Harry the Schnoodle, who unexpectedly passed away earlier this year.
Rundle brought the production to present day, using mobile phones and contemporary references for script updates, a good decision that demonstrates how perennial and current these relationship issues remain. Opening with Alicia Keyes ‘New York’, Rundle’s musical choices were inspirational. At one point, the arrangement of the trio’s rendition of a Cole Porter’s song withSimply Red’s style of ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ almost had me in tears. They didn’t need to be good singers – the raw emotion and poignancy was palpable.
Costume designer Chris Bartle selected vibrant colour palettes that particularly suited the cast, and created a fetching wardrobe for Avery.
The set silhouette of skyscrapers with a minimal lounge, and a trio of trees with grass extended beyond the stage, was excellent.
Susan Rundle obviously had a tight team of cast and crew. She says, ‘We need to enjoy this work. I won’t have prima donnas!’
All of the actors maintained good New York dialects. Ana Della Rocca goes from strength to strength; this has been her year of excellence. She is well known for her scary portrayals of angry women (including many film and TV crime appearances) and comedic rages; but this year has also given us her sensitive, lost, and melancholic range. Her nuanced interpretation of the resentful wife was impressive. Calling Sylvia ‘Saliva’ and ‘her Holiness’ was all the more hilarious for it.
The gender neutral psychologist, played by Robyn Kelly, was most amusing, and Bruce Hardie was believable as the typical man in a midlife crisis.
There was a storm with pelting rain during this performance, but the team were able to project their voices so well that the audience could easily hear everything.
It’s a funny show and I was a bit nonplussed when every time I laughed, sedate people in the row in front of me turned round to stare with disapprobation. At interval, the entire row moved to the other side of the theatre! But this night was unusual; I hear that every other night the laughter from the audience matched mine.
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