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Drew Fairley and Anna Lise Phillips in Parlour Song. Images: Patrick Boland.

POSTED: 21 MAY 2010

Parlour Song, by Jez Butterworth, directed by Cristabel Sved

B Sharp & mt productions | Belvoir Street Theatre Downstairs, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 6 June

Nothing says suburbia like leaf blowers — and the first thing that hits you, even before you enter the theatre proper, is the intrusive sound that shatters the peace of many a Sunday lie-in.

Then, as you round the corner into the performance space, there are the vertical blinds.

William Bobby Stewart’s set design perfectly sets up the feel of the McMansion in Parlour Song. There are even ‘tasteful’ citrus-coloured cushions scattered on the audience seating. Enhanced by clever lighting and visual effects, once again I am amazed by the creative vision that transforms Belvoir’s tiny Downstairs theatre.

Playwright Jez Butterworth has created a slightly surreal, funny, and darkly disturbing peek into the lives behind the identical, blocky fortresses of the suburban sprawl.

Ned (Drew Fairley) blows up buildings for a living. He boasts an impressive collection of recorded demolition that he loves to play to his neighbour, Dale (Matt Dyktynski). In the midst of neighbourhood anonymity, Ned and Dale have formed a friendship, defined by workouts and barbeques with the wives.

But all is not well. Ned can’t sleep, and his demolition job means he can’t even resort to pharmaceutical assistance. He feels overweight and unattractive to his wife, Joy (Anna Lise Phillips), and their marriage has deteriorated into a stultifying impasse. Strangest of all, everything is disappearing …

Parlour Song’s premise sounds fairly ordinary, but the play is anything but. This is an absolute gem full of raw emotion, pathos and desolation. If at times the pace slows, it is reenergized with surprising turns and brilliant performances.

In particular, Fairley’s Ned is a devastating portrayal of a man becoming unhinged by his own self-doubt. His interactions with Phillips are tense to the point of discomfort, and the scenes where Ned vainly attempts to better himself — either through exercise or recorded lessons on cunnilingus — are as pathetic as they are hilarious.

Phillips’ Joy is a brittle, spirited and enigmatic, while Dyktynski’s superficial, blunt Dale is a terrific foil to Ned’s sensitivity and desperation.

Director Cristabel Sved, who recently worked on the wonderful Beauty Queen of Leenane for STC and Dealing with Clair for Griffin, has once again realised the extraordinary in everyday existence.

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