MINNIE & LIRAZ - MELBOURNE
MINNIE & LIRAZ, Melbourne Theatre Company at the Fairfax Theatre, 12 May-24 June 2017. Photography by Jeff Busby - above: Nancye Hayes and Virginia Gay; below: Nancye Hayes and Sue Jones
Lally Katz’s new play Minnie & Liraz is set in the Autumn Road Retirement Village in Caulfield, Melbourne. We get age, bridge, friendship, love, awkward offspring and death.
As bridge is a fierce card game so is being a bridge partner and when one partner dies (natural attrition?) the scheming to become the new partner knows no bounds.
To win her place as the new kid at the table, Liraz (Sue Jones) is wily in her ways. And against the advice of her husband Maurice (Rhys McConnachie) who ‘can’t stand” Liraz, Minnie (Nancye Hayes) against her better judgement, contemplates the partnership when presented with the carrot: matchmaking their grandchildren who are both single and in their 30s.
As dodgy as this suggestion is, Minnie wants to win and equally as important, she wants a great grandchild; she laments the ending of their lineage. That her granddaughter is 37 is a moot point.
The set (Mel Page) has all the hallmarks of a retirement village – walls of an apricot shade, a colour that is meant to soothe; a corridor and large doorways to accommodate wheel- and motorised chairs. It’s all contained on a revolve to accommodate a myriad of scene changes. This works to a degree but you don’t get the real lived-in feel of Maurice and Minnie’s room – no pictures of the family, no remnant clutter of a life time. I needed some sense of such warmth to underpin the devotion that Maurice has for Minnie and Minnie’s lamenting the lack of communication with her son. While the set slowed the pace, the costumes, also by Page, signified time and place and added a well-needed splash of colour.
Equally, the sound design (Stefan Gregory) got my toe tapping and jolted some of us out of our apathy, it also helped the scene changes that otherwise tended to slow the action. The cast is strong but the play cries out for a dramaturg that isn’t the director. It needs cutting and tightening, scenes that are not integral to the plot too often get in the way (running time: two hours 15 minutes including the interval).
The director (Anne-Louise Sarks) has assembled a cast that ensures the play works at a humorous level. Sue Jones (looking too much like my mother for comfort) has absolutely the right tone as Liraz – funny and guarded. Hayes as Minnie is just right and Maurice (McConnochie) is a delicious, doting husband. The two offspring Rachel (Virginia Gay) and Ichabod (Peter Paltos) are properly charming as they bloomed into not so young love – the flute playing is a warming touch. Georgina Naidu (Norma) is every bit a too-caring member of staff.
There are a lot of laughs and some pathos, intrigue and good performances but nevertheless, I wanted more from the play.