Brett and Wendy…A Love Story Bound by Art
Parramatta Riverside until January 27
Written, Designed and Directed by Kim Carpenter
Review by Ron Lee, CSP
Of all of the public love stories in Australia in the last sixty years, which one captured your attention the most? Surely one of the most interesting ones was the saga of artist Brett Whiteley and Wendy Julius who became the glamour couple of the art world and Sydney society.
The Harpo Marx look-alike created some of the most iconic, masterful and stylistically recognisable artworks ever produced and many of them were from a turret and studio in Lavender Bay. He also had exhibitions in Italy, England and the United States. Whiteley’s muse and inspiration was Wendy.
As a couple and individually, they experienced as many lows as they did highs. Both had affairs for their own rejuvenation, hoping that creative restoration would be the companion of the experimentation. The downfall started with uncontrollable addictions to alcohol and heroin. When Brett and Wendy finally split for good in 1989, Brett’s creativity deserted him and he finally shuffled off his mortal coil in June,1992, but that was not before he and Wendy lived a life crowded with incident.
Kim Carpenter’s creation takes us on that journey and couples it with depictions of the lives and art with modern dance, which is a highlight.
Lucas Jervies’ choreography reminded me of the innovative, enthrallingly artistic and emotion-inducing Graeme Murphy era of the Sydney Dance Company that put the SDC on the map and launched it onto the world stage, starting with Daphnis and Chloe. Poster images of Kim Walker as Eros on a skateboard were all over New York City.
The bathroom scene in Brett and Wendy is strikingly reminiscent of the Bathroom scene in the SDC production of Some Rooms that I reviewed in 1983 and evoked similar feelings. The costumes were also the same. Robbie Curtis and Naomi Hibberd provide breathtaking performances as the principal dancers.
Leeanna Walsman perfectly captures the youthful confidence of Wendy Whitely and the sureness of her place in the couple’s dynamic. Her depiction is assisted by costume designer Genevieve Graham’s recreation of Wendy’s distinctive look. Paul Gleeson effectively takes us through Brett’s life from cheeky youth to bulletproof world-beater, to a heroin and alcohol-fuelled decline, although he’s visually less like Brett Whiteley and more like Leo Sayer.
The two leads are well-supported by experienced actors Tony Llewellyn-Jones and Jeanette Cronin and also by Olivia Brown and Yasmin Polley.
Kim Carpenter’s experience and passion are clearly evident in this production. The combination of drama and dance works beautifully and the cyclorama projections of Whiteley’s art enhance the experience.
One of the most intriguing stories in Australian art, Brett and Wendy at the Riverside Theatre is well worth catching before ends soon.