Here's a review of Muse -- in which I played the put-upon-wife Gemma -- by Xanthe Coward (XS Entertainment)...
Muse is the best new Australian indie work we’ve seen this year. Written and directed on the Sunshine Coast by Simon Denver after XS Entertainment’s Sam Coward challenged the playwright at the poker table one night to write something new and irresistibly real, this darkly comical piece dives deeply and unapologetically into human nature, hook-ups, marriage, lies, loyalty and the world of live theatre, capturing our imaginations and clenching its fist around our hearts. Honest, unsettling and a catalyst for some of the most interesting conversations you’ll ever have with your lover, MUSE is the very best sort of provocative performing arts.
Upcoming at Brisbane Powerhouse is Wax Lyrical’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, which also looks at the dissolve of a relationship. And there are many other good works that explore the jealousy, resentment and resignation leading to the end – or not – of a relationship. Where MUSE differs from what we’ve seen before is that it’s violently articulate and neatly structured, offering a balanced view of the issues, inviting us to join these individuals on their journeys and at the same time, reflect on our own lives and loves.
An unexpected theatrical device is cleverly incorporated to make us consider how much of what we tell ourselves and our partner is actually reality and how much is fantasy. So much of what might seem like a good idea at the time is complicated and also, outside of society’s norms.
Denver’s text questions why we do what we do, juxtaposing human nature and free will against a traditional view of marriage and monogamous relationships. Set within a theatrical context, two weeks before a classic play goes up and the leading players become entangled in an illicit affair, MUSE avoids cliche and draws on truth. Denver is a keen study of human behaviour; in this work you’re sure to recognise aspects of yourself or someone you know.
Refreshingly, Denver presents all sides of the story and also, fully drawn female characters – the actor-turned-academic wife, Jemma (Mel Myers) and the free-spirited leading lady, Ngaire (Rachel Fentiman) – rather than the token women we’re so used to seeing, still, on our stages and screens.
While Jemma flails alone at home beneath a stack of undergraduate essays and an endless supply of red wine, her husband, Kris (Brett Klease), is enjoying post-rehearsal drinks with his free-spirited millennial leading lady, Ngaire. When things come to a head, Jemma confronts Kris and then Ngaire, and the terms of engagement are settled over a couple of unsettling scenes. Kris turns to his geeky gamer/coder brother, Julian (Howard Tampling), only to hear from him the voice of reason and the loyalty line he wishes he could tow too. Meanwhile, the director of the play within the play (Adam Flower), just wants to put on a good show.
Sans production values (we know it’s been produced on the smell of an oily rag) the work speaks for itself. While there’s some effort to make in terms of taking it to the next level (some of the musical choices to bookend scenes are a little too obvious and a design aesthetic is less so), MUSE is the most intriguing and moving night at the theatre this year on the Sunshine Coast. SRT must be encouraged to seek further support for a return season next year, or a move sideways in the ecology, which will allow a broader audience to experience the beauty, tragedy, hope and truth of MUSE.