20
Nov
15

Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls

 

Heavenly Bodies & Beautiful Souls

Pentimento Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

November 18 – 28 2015

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter 

 

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Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls features, yet again, exquisite writing by Sven Swenson that brings to life afflicted and loveable characters, making us reflect on our own human existence. Each play is an hour long, allowing the audience a brief glimpse into the lives of one particular family, four generations apart.

 

The stage design by Ray Milner is stunning; as the audience enters the Visy Theatre, they are transported to a den of iniquity in Singapore, 1942. Heavenly Bodies opens with Laidie (Regan Lynch) a woman of hidden talents preparing her boudoir for the next soldier and trying desperately to block out the sound of artillery shells exploding outside. She makes the bed and then reclines on a chaise lounge, surrounded by lavish rugs and precious trinkets that comfort and make her feel desirable in a time of war. The stage is surrounded by debris; broken furniture, crumbling brick and all covered in a ghostly white sheet of dust. As beautiful as Laidie’s world appears to be, a brutal reality is ever present and creeping through the cracks in the window.

 

She is soon joined by Australian solider Cutty Cutler (Sam Ryan) who is quick to express his love for his wife, Ruby, and that he only requires friendly company and conversation.

 

The narrative unfolds into a sweet, confronting and transformative encounter between two people searching for inner peace and acceptance in dark times.

 

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Ryan’s performance of the “joker from the scrub” is jovial and endearing. The writing includes brilliant moments of Aussie slang and hilarious anecdotes that Ryan handles with ease. Lynch has an incredibly difficult role, with Laidie by the end completely and unashamedly revealing her true self to Cutty. Whether or not it was opening night nerves, it seemed that Lynch’s performance was bubbling on the surface. His restraint captured Laidie’s discomfort but there were times I wanted more! I wanted to see her harrowing struggle with the person she use to be, is now, and who she yearns to become. The text is so rich and desperate that more weight and time needed to be given to certain lines.

 

Heavenly Bodies explores themes that are still (unfortunately) relevant today.

 

This play reminds us of the importance of being vulnerable; that it’s ok to be scared but not to be controlled by our fears. It is imperative to look upon someone with love, without judging them too quickly; to see them for who they truly are. Perhaps then, our own true selves will be revealed.

 

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From the beginning, Beautiful Souls thrusts the audience into a cage of regret, loneliness and uncertainty. This story introduces David Cutler (Zachary Boulton) who travelled to Asia with his intellectually disabled brother, Justin (Peter Norton) and companion, Beth (Casey Woods). After David convinces Justin to hide the remains of their marijuana on his person, the three are convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death.

 

Swenson has mentioned that at the time of writing Beautiful Souls, no Australian had been on death row since drug offenders Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986. He has also refrained from altering the script due to recent events.

 

The stage is surrounded by debris with the actors standing on three raised platforms with a wall of thick barbed wire behind them; above each hung a noose. It is a stark and terrifying design that allows the audience to draw their focus to the actors. All three performances by Boulton, Norton and Woods are raw and completely harrowing, each leading to a defeated acceptance of a grim end.

 

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There are moments when it seems the text does not sit well with Beth, that the character would not utter particular words given to her, though Woods has everyone on the edge of their seat. She speaks with such sincerity and moves honestly through moments of grasping for hope, lost in memory and wallowing in despair. Boulton plays David as a broken man tormented by the past and fighting against the inevitable future. Due to the fact he is continually battling with his raging emotions, his quick acceptance of his fate at the end is somewhat abrupt. On opening night I was yearning for glimpses of light in this dark character. Perhaps this resistance was a conscience decision, a reminder of those who fight and fight and fight till the very end.

 

Norton’s performance is a standout. He is completely charming, providing the right amount of comedy when need be, and also an incredible depth and knowing, allowing the audience to delight in the many facets of the character.

 

Beautiful Souls forces you to reflect on the history of humanity.

 

While our world can be cruel and relentless, this play reminds us of the beauty found in minute moments, and in the company of those closest to us.

 

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