Monday June 17, 2024
INTO THE SHIMMERING WORLD
Review

INTO THE SHIMMERING WORLD

By Diana Simmonds
April 7 2024

INTO THE SHIMMERING WORLD, Sydney Theatre Company at Wharf 1, 6 April - 19 May 2024. Photography by Daniel Boud - above: Colin Friels; below - Friels and Kerry Armstrong; below again - Bruce Spence and Friels

The opening minutes of Angus Cerini’s new play are filled with the sing-song mundane un-poetry of “Okay?”… “Okay.”… “Okay?”… “Okay.” … “Okay?” The words are tossed like a lifeline between Ray (Colin Friels) and Floss (Kerry Armstrong) as they strive to hear and see each other across the divide of a long marriage and his blokey inarticulacy. Into The Shimmering World is a paean to simple communication where anything more complex or heartfelt is beyond the male of the species – despite the depth of his feelings.

The story and its players are created as much by what is seen as what is said. David Fleischer’s set of an elevated weatherboard farmhouse kitchen tells of a history of flood just as clearly as elliptical exchanges between husband and wife declare present and devastating drought. Their plight is also illustrated by Floss, in her work uniform and ID tag, preparing to leave for the day while Ray stays home to tend their remaining cattle and parched land. It’s the life of so many in agricultural Australia – eking out a living by any means while life is steadily sucked out of the poor soil and their humanity.

Other visual subtleties abound: a visiting city-dwelling son (James O’Connell) wears $200 Nikes, neat white sport socks, and long shorts, while his dad’s worn Blunnies, sagging jeans, and rumpled shirt speak of dirt, sweat, and saved pennies. There is nothing extraneous, either textually or visually, and the result is a palpable sense of seared lives and landscape; also a sense of foreboding.

Ray is suffering serious men’s business of some kind, while Floss is intangibly fragile even as she is her husband’s staunch offsider and love. The flittering undercurrent of fear is momentarily alleviated as raindrops hit the tin roof in exhilarating staccato. When it sets in to become steady rain their joy is beautiful to witness. It’s Australia, however, and more often than not that means flood.

INTO THE SHIMMERING WORLD

Composer and sound designer Clemence Williams is integral to the success of the play. The mix of musical fragments, birdsong, digital effects, rain, and distant gunfire alternately underline or highlight the text and the action – of which, in essence, there is little. Combined with Nick Schlieper’s lighting, which ranges from the naturalistic kitchen interior, day and night, to the floodwater – the shimmering world, the creativity of this team with Paige Rattray’s sensitive, canny direction is both heartbreaking and ravishing.

As Ray, Colin Friels is all light and charm despite unfolding tragedies. It’s his basic character and has enchanted and irritated Floss since their first meeting. Kerry Armstrong has less to work with in the character of the almost ethereal Floss but is a powerful presence nonetheless. Bruce Spence is equally strong in what’s virtually a cameo role as Old Mate – his descriptor telling us everything even as he teases much meaning from the role.

As the local cop as well as their son and another local, James O’Connell also provides fine support, while Renee Lim – doubling as a landcare ranger and Ray’s home help – is authentic and an essential element.

What happens over just 90 minutes is a portrait of two people, their lives together and apart; their relationship with the land, and the cataclysmic changes that occur to it and them. As is so true of life on the land, everything and nothing happens, and joy can turn to sorrow in a moment.

INTO THE SHIMMERING WORLD

Although almost all is left to the imagination of the viewer, the failing farm, its hoon neighbours, worn-out paddocks and erratic forces of nature are as vivid as if captured in Technicolor. Ray’s journey is comparably intensely-coloured – from raging frustration at the hoons to gentle adoration of his great love Floss  – even as life, hope, and happiness fade.

Into The Shimmering World is a remarkable portrait of an Australia and Australians that rarely make it to centre stage and when it does, are most often viewed through sentimental-tinted specs. (STC’s production, last century, of the equally potent The Raindancers, by Karin Mainwaring, starring a magnificent Bryan Brown is another rare exception.) As it is, Angus Cerini and his collaborators deliver memorable and compelling work that can be recommended without reservation.

 

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