Shining City

q44-shining-cityWhat a diverse range of experiences you can have over a week in the Melbourne Theatre scene. Last Friday Anti-Hamlet had too much happening. Shining City takes rather the opposite approach.

Dublin-born playwright and screenwriter Conor McPherson received a Tony Award nomination for Shining City in 2006. At its core is the human tendency to make commitments we can’t maintain, and the guilt arising from that.

Having recently left his life as a Catholic priest, Ian (Anthony Scundi) is about to embark on a new career as a counsellor. His first client is John (Sebastian Gunner). He’s a newcomer to counselling, recently driven from his home by what he thinks is the appearance of his dead wife.

Much of the play is taken up by the sessions between Ian and John. Their language is very much that of everyday speech. Perhaps McPherson chose this tack to bring us closer to the reality of the general public, rather than presenting less relatable characters able to speak with literary grace.

Regrettably, as presented, the dialogue often wasn’t very interesting. Burdened by seemingly endless filler such as “you know”, or completely unnecessary recaps, the uninterrupted two hours of the performance failed to illuminate Shining City. Having so much time devoted to the counselling sessions exposed a range of problems with this production. Accents wandered from Irish to Canadian to something from The Sopranos, at times.

A stronger directorial hand would have found some way of keeping our interest by varying the increasingly stale naturalistic scenes. In the absence of this though, Scundi must have felt he had to do something to fill extended periods of time when all he gets to do is listen. Unfortunately, the reactions he had to John’s revelations made him look more like a mate at the bar rather than a non-judgemental observer.

These sorts of flaws become amplified once an audience decides they aren’t invested in the story. Partly this was due to interminably long scene changes; a pint of Guinness would have settled faster.

Other threads to the story had potential to illuminate Ian’s personality. Madeline Claire French was capable as Neasa, Ian’s girlfriend and mother of his child. It was unfortunate that the outcome of her one scene was predictable. Nick Cain’s Laurence could have been a catalyst for a new insight into Ian’s interior struggles, but this scene didn’t shed new light on anything before or after.

More critical audiences, especially those interested in innovative use of theatre to tell a story, might find that looking elsewhere will better suit their needs.

Shining City
Q44 Theatre, 550 Swan Street, Richmond
Performance: Tuesday 8 November 2016
Season continues to 27 November 2016
Information and Bookings: www.q44.com.au

Image: Nick Cain and Anthony Scundi feature in Shining City – courtesy of Q44 Theatre

Review: Jason Whyte

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