Six members of one Australian family have reached a turning-point in their life, with future progress set to be mired in uncertainty.
After the opening long monologue from younger daughter Rosie (Elise Busset in a really strong start, with exceptional grasp of pace and variation of voice) and subsequent interaction with her parents, the somewhat overwhelming Fran and Bob, we discover that playwright Andrew Bovell has avoided the easy temptation to present us with folk turning out utterly different from the initial impression they create, as circumstances of plot waylay them. Instead he takes – in the main – the more satisfying route of demonstrating time and events modifying their characteristics suggested at the start.
That's not to say the play's material struck me as entirely plausible in its fiction. It's a pity that, as the problems faced by each family member roll past, Bovell reaches for the melodrama button, particularly in son Ben's stooping to a spot of not-so-petty larceny. And his treatment of LGBT+ themes seemed a little like a tired soap opera.
But this apart, the audience sat gripped for two hours by the shifting resentments and allegiances laid naked before us, a honed knife slicing off layers of a Spanish onion, at last to reveal the core. Make no mistake, Founding Fellas have done their material proud. Director Ellie Cooper is at the helm in her first non-school production – difficult to credit given the intelligence and artistic tact she employs. This studio space usually seems cramped. Yet Ellie has organized the placing and movement of her cast so that the space seemed uncluttered; spacious, even. The family physical bonding tableaux were touching and never overdone. The coaching of her players, including in tricky soliloquies, was full of variety and buzz. This is a name to watch.
Melissa Chang's ambient music, perfectly timed, creates a mood now cocoon-like, now foreboding; never over-portentous. Of the cast, Elise Busset built on her fine introduction to deliver scenes of poignant development ('I tried to grow up!'), while in sister Pip, Imogen Strachan suggested cleverly how unconsidered incidents in one's past can return as episodes of major discontent. Harry Berry's car worker Bob convinced both while bumbling along as background noise with his Baby Masquerade roses, and then revealing shocking depths of feeling.
As nurse Fran, Maya Jasinska gave us a really subtle portrait of a woman veering between initial uncritical approval of son Ben yet suspicious of every plan and change in others. William Foxton took a pleasingly matter-of-fact approach to his big revelation, although I might have liked a little more nuance of angst and remorse in Bailey Finch-Robson's floor-rolling wide boy.
My companion Markus, a veteran observer of student drama in Britain and Germany, commented that he couldn't recall seeing such strong ensemble acting. The all-round quality of this Founding Fellas production is red-hot. It would be a travesty were it not to play to full houses for the rest of the week.