Off the Record - New Theatre (NSW)
Written by Chris Aronsten. Directed by Jess Davis.
Reviewed by Juliana Payne
New Theatre, Newtown
11th July - 5th August, 2023
- A play that creates more questions than it answers, and for good reason. A genuinely captivating piece of theatre awaits -
Wow - is New Theatre having a good year or what. Off the Record by Chris Aronsten is brought to life there by Jess Davis and a bunch of talented and utterly believable actors. It’s an enthralling production – it picks up the audience and carries us along its familiar but never predictable storyline. The crew delivered an authentic and engaging theatrical experience. In a small slice of realism written in a deceptively ordinary and contemporary idiom, it explores our dark hearts and the increasingly complicated question that used to be so easily answered: what is the truth? With just a handful of well written, well-rounded characters, Aronsten explores some pretty huge themes, and does it well.
Photos © Bob Seary
Jenny Gosper (Michela Noonan) is a former star journalist reduced by her own folly to a tabloid hack; Tony Trevelan (JoeClements) is a high-profile aid agency CEO facing accusations of abusing female employees. Around their mutual sparring is built the plot of secrets and lies that draws in and spits out the other characters, Jenny’s partner (ChadTraupmann), Tony’s wife (Gina Cohen) and the long suffering and tragi-comic would-be whistle-blower Janine (Suzann James). Belinda Hoare as Jenny’s patient AA sponsor provides little bouts of peace for Jenny amongst the awfulness. Aronsten's script – thank the gods – provides these skilled actors with meaty, nuanced material that intertwines humour, drama, and pathos for them to showcase their stuff. They all deliver in spades, with Noonan’s stand-out performance providing the lynch-pin.
The play’s structure is layered, with each scene building carefully on the one before. Noonan embraces this structure, developing Jenny’s character naturally and plausibly. The cast provide wonderful support with just the right amount of laughs and drama to keep it moving. The cast create some genuine chemistry on stage, with authentic relationships and flawlessly executed naturalistic dialogue and comic timing.
The questions are hard, there’s no easy answers, and you should go see this play for that very reason.
The set (David Marshall-Martin) and lighting (Mehran Mortezaei) design is a treat, with raised blocks and bright backwash lighting to differentiate times and locations. Variegated fabric panels can be made to look transparent or opaque to reflect the mood and action on stage. Sound designers Scott Gabutto and Matthewvan den Berg use instrumental or actual versions of classic 90s hits for maximum emotional impact. There’s an outstanding piano version of the gorgeous ‘rain down’ section of Radiohead’s highly ironic Paranoid Android as well as the jaunty but darkly prescient There She Goes Again by The La’s which closes a play that asks more questions than it answers - in a good way.
One of the play's notable strengths is to present the very real and immediate impacts of abstract concepts of whistleblowing, truth-telling and doing ‘what is right’. The questions are hard, there’s no easy answers, and you should go see this play for that very reason, and for the joy of a quality theatrical experience.
CREATIVE TEAM Director Jess Davis Set Designer David Marshall-Martin Lighting Designer Mehran Mortezaei Sound Design Scott Gabutto/Matthew van den Berg Vision Designer Verica Nikolic Assistant Director Matthew van den Berg Stage Manager Scott Gabutto Operator Georgina Moore
CAST Joe Clements, Gina Cohen Belinda Hoare, Suzann James Michela Noonan, Chad Traupmann