by Brian Friel
Directed by Heidi Manché
The Old 505 Theatre, 342 Elizabeth Street Surry Hills, until September 12
Every year, The Sydney Fringe Festival comes up with many surprises, and this year is no exception.
My first production was the appropriately-titled Afterplay.
This one-act, one-hour, two-hander features fictional characters from works created by the famous Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov. The two meet by chance in a cafe in Moscow twenty years after the time period of the plays. When Sonya (Emma Skelton) from Uncle Vanya encounters Andrey (Wayne Bassett) from The Three Sisters, they experience deception to impress, hesitation, frustration, sexual tension, inebriation, and in Andrey’s case, utter confusion. Bassett absolutely nailed the vulnerability of his character, right down to the nervous laugh.
This dynamic is about men-women communication differences, unrealised dreams and social convention and tension in 1920s Russia. The Chekhov element adds interest and a time reference.
Just as interesting as the play was the location, the Old 505 Theatre in Surry Hills, opposite Central Station. I hadn’t been to this venue before, and it had been described to me as “The Bronx without the aesthetic appeal”. It definitely had an “atmosphere”, an “ambience” that I hadn’t experienced in all of the years I’ve been reviewing theatre. The Sydney Opera House or Covent Garden, it’s not. To get to the thirty-seat performance space with comfortable, three-tiered seating, we entered through a dingy doorway that had a protective covering over the numerical passcode pad. Once inside, the building appeared to be an ancient, condemned apartment block or office block, or possibly an antiquated warehouse conversion that housed a commune of squatters who were also graffiti artists with a lot of time on their hands. In the narrow passageway, our olfactory senses were assaulted by an overwhelming, atmospheric blanket of urine. In the tiny elevator to the fifth floor, we were enveloped by the powerful smell of disinfectant with an undernote of urine. Out of the lift, we walked on bridge over a concrete chasm that was also covered with graffiti. In fact, none of the surface areas in this building were lacking street art; some of it was fascinating.
After the performance, as we were traversing the walk bridge to leave at the same time as another couple, one of them gave us a hesitant look and asked, “Are you getting in that lift?” We held our breath and again ventured into the abyss.
The Chekhov references, the uniqueness of the intimate venue, the dynamic between the characters, the graffiti and the aromas made for an interesting evening. Afterplay runs until September 12.