Wednesday April 25, 2018


By Diana Simmonds
April 25 2017

THREE LITTLE WORDS, The Sumner, Melbourne Theatre Company at Southbank, 18 April-27 May 2017.

Splitting up amicably is never thus; especially after twenty years. Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play begins with a jolly dinner party for four (two couples), both seemingly devoted not only to their partners but to the longevity of friendship; that is until, in a jocular manner, Tess (Catherine McClements) drops casually into the conversation that she and Curtis (Peter Houghton) are parting ways. This of course is taken with derision – more of the “how can you do this to us” – the foursome somehow being sacrosanct. 

It seems Tess feels confined with the label of wife and mother, she has a keen desire to “find” her true self. Curtis the metrosexual seemingly supports his wife’s hankering to go on her own journey. It is then that the relationships start to splinter. All questioning their places.

Murray-Smith gives us a lot of laughs; it is topical, we know the references to people and places. The humour though is at the expense of Tess and serves to undermine and make her look foolish and selfish. Curtis moves from acquiescence to anger and stupidity. He manages to “pick up” in an instant after moving from the marital home with the obligatory woman twenty years his junior, loving the youthful sex. (Ugh.)

The other couple, Annie (Kate Atkinson) and Bonnie (Katherine Tonkin) unwittingly – or wittingly – take sides which disrupts their unity. They are invested in their friends staying together to make sense of their own relationship.

The characters crack and fall and descend into pettiness and ultimately their frustrations peak as they fight for what is theirs. Finally Tess and Curtis turn their anger toward their friends: “this is not about you…!” This is true – we have to heal alone and no one else is responsible.


The play has its moments but for me didn’t sustain. McClements is a chameleon, she inhabits Tess warts and all and it is a strong performance well matched by Houghton. They were the stronger of the performers on the night; Tonkin has some of the best put-down lines. 

The scene changes are peppered with a great sound track by sound designer Kelly Ryall. The set (Michael Hankin) is a revolve that works to the advantage of the couples, with an intelligently apt lighting design by Paul Jackson.

Sarah Goodes’ direction is sound and she elicits performances from her actors that at times are hampered by the confines of the stereotypical text.



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