Printable CopyTHE MIDDLE WAY
South Australian Playwrights Theatre
Holden Street Theatres
Until 26 Jan 2019

Review by Anthony Vawser

New theatrical works by local writers are always a welcome commodity in this state, especially when a play as fine as “The Middle Way” makes it to the stage.

Managing to cover just the right amount of emotional terrain and thematic depth in its seventy minutes, this is a show that will touch a nerve and strike a chord if you’ve been a parent or had a parent, if you’re a believer in God or a determined agnostic.

Lucy Combe has been brave in her selection of subject matter to write about, as well as wise and skilful in crafting an accessible piece of theatre that deals with recognisable human characters, believable relationships, and relatable conflicts. The opening scene may feel, in the moment, noticeably stilted and clunky in its exposition, but this is easily forgiven/forgotten once the story begins to generate its own inexorably compelling flow.

Samantha Riley directs with an assured hand (in her South Australian debut), giving the proceedings a slightly-larger-than-life quality that not only grips and involves the audience but also suits the characters and their predicaments, generating electric drama and surprising twists, while deftly and wisely remaining tethered to a sense of real life. The smart structure of Combe’s plotting, involving judicious use of flashback action and time-jumps, is generally well-handled by Riley, as is the evocative use of multimedia.

The excellent Kate Bonney, playing a mother forced to deal with a self-harming adolescent daughter while nursing her own traumatic past, provides a magnetic centre to the tangle of loyalties, betrayals, and personal journeys that characterise “The Middle Way”. Brendan Cooney, continuing to impress with his versatility and range, is tasked with delineating two distinct characters, one of them providing much of the play’s comedic relief. It wasn’t clear to this reviewer whether or not the two roles are explicitly intended to be portrayed by one performer, but whatever the case, Cooney’s casting and performance really does work wonderfully well on all the necessary levels.

Harper Robb brings an unaffected and appealing sense of naturalism to troubled teenager Kat, getting us easily on her side and hoping that she either makes the correct choices in life or can at least survive making the wrong ones. Katie O’Reilly’s Rayleen exudes a fascinating blend of steely charisma and quiet hostility that has us fascinated to learn her secrets.

Matt Hawkins’ multi-faceted contribution as on-screen actor and behind-the-scenes technician is an invaluable one. Set design, by Oliver Lacoon Williamson & Wendy Lacoon, incorporates a mysterious cardboard-box motif that somehow suits the show; the designers are also successful at creating discrete spaces to provide separate locations with a minimum of clutter or fuss.

“The Middle Way” is a strong and highly satisfying work, as well as being more than enough to make one await the next work by Lucy Combe and/or SA Playwrights Theatre with anticipation.