Sweet Phoebe tells the story of Helen (Olivia Monticciolo) and Frazer (Marcus McKenzie) and their dog, Phoebe. When Phoebe gets loose and gets lost, Helen and Frazer’s happiness takes a tumble and their relationship soon follows. What starts as a desperate search for their pet becomes a desperate search for some way from ferocity to forgiveness.
Olivia and Marcus were terrific in their roles, giving their performances a sharpness and gusto that suited the heightened tone Director, Mark Wilson, has steered things.
To be sure, the gaudy-ish marble riddled with cracks is a little on the nose as we learn more about fragility of Helen and Frazer’s relationship, but there’s a lovely ornateness to Laura Jean Hawkins set design – an open-plan space with a dais at its centre – that feels both stylised yet practical.
What begins as plenty of back and forth stretches out into a series of ever-lengthening monologues, mostly delivered by Frazer. Marcus does his absolute best to hold the audience’s attention across long swathes of text and while he succeeds for the most part, the script admittedly labours towards the end.
Some of this is unavoidable, however. Frazer’s epiphany not only happens off-stage, but also in the past. The audience’s tolerance for another long tract of exposition is as low as Helen’s for more of Frazer’s promises and bullshit. As she moves from enduring his words to actively listening to him, so do does the production commit a delicate sleight of hand to re-engage us, making us believe that Helen’s final word is authentic and hopeful.
Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, St. Kilda East
Performance: Saturday 2 February 2019 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 3 March 2019
Information and Bookings: www.redstitch.net
Image: Marcus McKenzie and Olivia Monticciolo star in Sweet Phoebe – photo by Teresa Noble photography
Review: David Collins