Review: Sex, Death, and a Cup of Tea

by Jane

Sex, Death, and a Cup of Tea from the Tasmanian Theatre Company, is ultimately a night of four underdeveloped short plays, painting a very bleak painting of Tasmania. While steaming off a nice idea: sending four playwrights to live in and write about four Tasmanian communities, the resulting scripts particularly lacking in key details of setting and relationship, along with a lack of finer attention to details. On stage, they also suffered from this lack of attention to presentational details (the audience should never be distracted by an unswept stage or an unremoved price tag), and a lack of clarity in direction by Robert Jarman.

The Seagull (surely that is one of the names you can’t call a play? Chekov wins that round, always.) by Sue Smith comes from the mining community of Zeehan, where two thoroughly unsympathetic characters argue about their relationship: he (Guy Hooper) must go and spend the weekend with wife and children, she (Jemma Gates) claims it is her weekend. This argument between the two cheaters, as each bemoans how unfair it is for the other to put them in that position, has a simple answer: don’t be an adulterer.

The play becomes interesting when older cleaner May (Joan Murray) enters to clean the room. Largely confusing as to what room they are in that Cassie is wearing a night-gown and was carrying on her affair yet is a public space which the cleaner has free access too, nonetheless, through May Smith’s script gives the best background to the town it calls home.

While The Seagull suffers from unlikeable characters, Bull Kelp by Dabra Oswald, suffers from an annoying one. Kim (Gates) has returned to the island for a visit from her new home, the very different island of Manhattan, where she is reacquainted with schoolmate Brendan (Scott Farrow). Into their lives comes the tedious and Scottish Selkirk (Hooper), who, travelling the world’s islands, shows the pair of locals what they’re missing when they complain about the small island. It was in this play that there was a hanging price tag off Kim’s bag: and after they spent time establishing how she cares about her looks!

Sex, Death, & Fly-fishing by Adam Grossetti, coming from his time in Miena, is the most realised of the plays. Sad and melancholy, yet a beautiful reflection on fly-fishing, and the cold environment of Miena, Grossetti’s script also benefits from being the most suitable for the unit set (designed by director Jarman, it appeared too small and, to be honest, cheap, for many sets): one location, in a simple room, furnished only by chair and fishing rods, with low lighting reflecting the chilly surroundings. Unfortunately, the play suffers from a lack of defined character relationship, and inconsistencies in Jarman’s directorial choices: a meeting between descriptive monologue and conversation between characters, the monologue is at first paired with Vivaldi’s Winter, seemingly to distinguish it from the rest of the scene. This pairing is confusingly broken towards the end of the play, before being re-instated in the final moments.

The final play of the evening, The Exceptional Beauty of the First and the Last from Swansea, by Finegan Kruckemeyer, also suffers from a lack of defined character relationship, and it took me a while to make the connection between Nick (Scott Farrow) and Evie (Jemma Gates). Unfortunately, again while having some beautiful moments between characters, Kruckemeyer is too ambitious in a play with too many scenes and locations which fail to be realised in Jarman’s set, and much of the dialogue is stilted – a reoccurring theme in the four plays.  This play is based on the premise that Julie (Joan Murray) has moved to Swansea from Adelaide to die, after listening to a jazz piece inspired by the town, and there, in the town with the oldest population in Australia, she touches Nick, who has, in another recurring theme, returned from a period away. I don’t know enough about jazz music or Swansea to know if the story about the musician is true, but the piece of jazz which played over the final stands of the final play was the most emotionally reaching piece of the night.

None of the four plays in Sex Death and a Cup of Tea felt fully developed, and unfortunately appeared to me as pieces in the workshop stage: they all needed work to be ready for the mainstage. Also, personally, and not a criticism of the plays themselves, but as a perspective on them as a collection: I was disappointed by the sad meditation of lonely people in lonely towns which each of the writers found. I had spent three days falling in love with Tasmania, and being surrounded by people who loved it dearly, so to be thrown into a despondent world was disappointing.

Sex, Death and a Cup of Tea.  Four short plays: The Seagull by Sue Smith, Bull Kelp by Debra Oswald, Sex, Death and Fly Fishing by Adam Grossetti, and The Exceptional Beauty of the First and Last by Finegan Kruckemeyer.  Presented by the Tasmanian Theatre Company, directed and designed by Robert Jarman, lighting design by Andrew Macdonald, composition by Craig Wood.  With Scott Farrow, Jemma Gates, Guy Hooper and Joan Marray.