Posts Tagged ‘happiness


The Effect


The Effect


The GreenHouse Bille Brown Studio

June 7 – July 5 2014


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 


Depression and anxiety are common conditions.


Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.


On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.


Anxiety is the most common mental condition in Australia. On average, 1 in 4 people – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – will experience anxiety.


Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the year following birth. Almost 1 in 10 women experience antenatal depression, and 1 in 7 in the postnatal period. Anxiety is likely to be as, or more, common.


At least six Australians take their own lives every day.








Dee and I have joked about our chemical imbalance; as if it’s a collective thing from which women-who-do-too-much suffer (of course it’s not just the women). When I remember the stats and think of everybody I know I have to wonder…which of us are NOT depressed!?



Act 1 of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is upbeat, fun and funny. It doesn’t take long to establish the four characters that tell an amusing and then very moving tale about a highly controversial couple of subjects. Despite everybody being a little too sharply drawn to begin with, it takes just ten minutes for the production to settle and for the characters and their relationships to develop into warm and interesting enough stories. And I love getting not-quite-the-full-story. There is much to establish in the first act – the participants of a clinical drug trial, the trial itself, the clinicians, and the premise – can happiness (and depression) be attributed to an altered chemical state in the brain?


By the end of the production there are almost two plays at work, which seems to be a sign (or symptom) of new work. I wish I’d written enough to tell you that from personal experience, but it’s only through seeing the work of other new playwrights that I can safely say we’ve seen before, two tales in one.


Act 2 takes a (not entirely unexpectedly intense) turn, challenging us to consider more seriously our choices and the ensuing consequences. It balances dangerously between conversational and preachy tone, with an extended scene between the medical professionals almost giving us too much of the debate, and repetitively so. I notice myself beginning to turn off, tune out and think, “So when is the pedophile thing going to come up? (This is not my spoiler. It’s within a quote in Prebbles’s bio. This marks the first time ever I wish I hadn’t read the program notes before seeing the play). The debate itself is an oldie but a goodie: do we medicate for depression or not? If not, why not? Can we heal ourselves of the epidemic sadness sweeping the world? You could get depressed just thinking about it! Or you could come up with, let’s say, a lucrative online project and collaborate with a popular stationary line. Yes, of course I have the books!



The space is glossy; so glossy it’s highly reflective and we see ourselves in the sterile black walls. White floors are harsh, cold, and blue shiny chairs offer a false sense of security and a superficial level of calm around the edges. Cruel fluro light is emitted from above and a light box dance floor features below. I’d love to put it into my kitchen (we’ve always danced in the kitchen). But more on lighting later.


Eugene Gilfedder, in one of his strongest roles to date, gets the balance just right. He’s the once flirtatious, now serious, always ambitious professional medic turned motivational speaker, Toby (a phone call away from a TED Talk!), and he makes a good case for the sensitive, older, Noah style long-term love interest. If you ever picked up the sequel to The Notebook (no, it’s not a film; you’ll have to read the book), it’s to that Noah I refer, the Noah who quietly, persistently and courageously conspires to reignite his wife’s love for him after many years of a “happy” marriage.




Toby’s foil is Dr James (Angie Milliken), who has endured childhood abuse and feels as if her old flame has done her a rather ironic favour by putting her in charge of the clinical trial of a new super anti-depressant. Her story, I think, is the second tale told and could be more sensitively treated under its own title.


Anna McGahan (always gorgeous to see her on stage) and Mark Leonard Winter (bringing gorgeous, lively new energy to this stage) are the unlikely punters who enter into an agreement with the imagined pharmaceutical company Raushen to trial for four weeks, a so-called happiness drug. Winter’s character, Tristan, has done this before – the money the drug companies pay him per trial allows him to travel the world – but for McGahan’s character, Connie, this is the first time, perhaps as some sort of escape or respite. But who is actually on the drug and who is given a placebo or some other concoction? How do we know if the emotions are real or merely the side effects of the drug? And if everybody is happy, in love, does it even matter?


What price happiness?


The relationship between Connie and Tristan comes across as a warm, immediate and very genuine thing, despite its corny start in the waiting room of the facility they share for the duration of the trial. It’s actually every girl’s worst waiting room nightmare, trapped in a small public space with a random trying to crack onto her. But love – or the effect of the drug – brings them together and we enjoy some lovely early dialogue to establish the attraction and later, a choreographed sex scene that depends as much on its lighting states as its posturing.




These two handle it well and the scene becomes very cinematic, beautifully so, but it’s still so strange to watch even a slightly dressed sex scene, isn’t it!? I know, I know, what do you do? It kinda’ works!


Much of the effect of the drama can be attributed to Sarah Goodes’ astute direction and the collaboration with lighting designer, Ben Hughes, who creates with Designer Renee Mulder, a dream-like version of a hospital nightclub. It exists somewhere between a mental asylum and a sci-fi galaxy government headquarters, ideal in this studio space, especially after relaxing pre-show in the gorgeous, cosy new library area of The GreenHouse. Guy Webster’s soundscape keeps us in a perpetual state of nothingness, or as I like to think, openness, and I love it and loathe it, like Camille’s album. It’s fascinating that not everybody hears it – Dee didn’t until I mentioned it – it’s that inner ear vibration that exists behind everything else and if it’s the wrong pitch (for you) it might override everything else and become seriously irritating. There are times when I blame it for the onset of a migraine, but not this time.


As much as I love the fun and vibe (and Veuve) of opening nights, I don’t mind seeing a production a week or so into its run, when all the elements have settled and the actors are well and truly back into storytelling mode, rather than, “Aargh! It’s opening night!” mode. You have until July 5 to catch The Effect before it heads to Sydney and you should, not just for the challenging conversation it will spark during the days following but also, for the private thoughts conjured as you catch yourself in the mirror it holds up to each and every one of us.





The Noosa Long Weekend Festival

The J Theatre

18th & 19th June 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward



Roland Makepeace (Mark Lee) knows what makes people happy. Why wouldn’t he? He’s an eminent professor of psychology who has devoted his life to scientifically investigating human well-being. But his theories are sorely tested when his wife Hanna (Anne Tenney) meets an old suitor Sam (Peter Kowitz) and his daughter Zelda (Erica Lovell) threatens to go right off the rails. This sharply observed comedy suggests that theory can sometimes fall well short of reality and that finding happiness is easier said than done.


It’s very funny – you’ll laugh and laugh – but you’ll also empathise with the characters. What I love is the irony of this professor of happiness surrounded by unhappiness when he’s done everything right. 
Only David can bring us this kind of irony.



The Queensland Premiere of David Williamson’s new comedy, Happiness, happened without the playwright and his wife, Kristen in attendance, which was strange, making the night less of an occasion than it might have been with them there. It’s a pity that an overseas trip clashed with The Noosa Long Weekend Festival. It’s always such a pleasure to see them.


Happiness hasn’t been received well down south and that leads me to tell you that, unlike in previous years, the play has had its Australian premiere in Sydney, at Ensemble Theatre’s home in Kirribilli. That may not be widely known. “How lucky we are to be the first to see David’s work” was among several comments heard after the show. I didn’t correct the guy…


I guess I’m not a big fan of Ensemble Theatre, however; you know I’m a huge fan of David’s, and I usually enjoy his plays. And there it is. I love the writing of this one too – it’s sharp, funny, and typically Williamson, which you either love or you hate – it’s the treatment that baffles me. And by baffled I mean I don’t understand how Ensemble Theatre and Artistic Director Sandra Bates, can do exactly the same thing with great new material year after year.


The text is totally current; it’s sharp, witty, funny, and overflowing with wonderful social commentary and close observations about life and love and complicated relationships. Sure, we’ve heard a lot of it before, but I love the way Williamson offers a fresh take on tired old gender and political issues. The characters are complex and yet we see one layer only of each. Except for Mark Lee, who plays Roland, and to a certain extent Anne Tenney, who plays his wife. The character seems to be written for him, such is his authenticity in the role. I would like to say the same of the rest of the cast but when I see these performances, I feel like shouting out “STOP ACTING! And Chill!”, which is something I find myself saying to student actors when I perceive them to be trying too hard.


Despite my misgivings, the opening night audience LOVED the new Williamson, as they always do. In fact, Stephen and I were sitting behind a party of people who were almost overcome with emotion, who gushed and would like to have seen it again today.


Tonight is the final performance by Ensemble Theatre of David Williamson’s Happiness as part of the Noosa Long Weekend program. If you love David’s work, you must see it somewhere, sometime.



Join Robyn Archer on an epic musical journey at the Noosa Long Weekend Festival

Robyn Archer stars in the Queensland premiere of her cabaret show





This will be wonderful! I can’t wait to see this show with my mum – we are long-term Robyn Archer admirers – and THEN we’ll also go to afternoon tea with Robyn on Wednesday (I’ll tweet it!). Her show is an epic journey through two centuries of French song, including works from Aristide Bruant through to Jacques Brel, Brigitte Bardot and Michael Morley. WOW!


Sung and spoken by Robyn Archer, musical direction and piano by Michael Morley and accordion George Butrumlic.




Monday 17 June 7pm at The J



Bookings online






Robyn Archer. Image by Heide Smith

Join Robyn Archer (and Mum and I!), for afternoon tea and a chat about Festivals in Australia, a topic Robyn is able to wax lyrical about, with a long list of Festival Director credits to her name.


Robyn Archer’s career took this turn accidentally, with an invitation while she was performing her show Le Chat Noir in Canberra to direct the festival, hosted by the national capital. She directed 1993, 1994 and 1995 editions and this began a remarkable string of Artistic Director positions at The Adelaide Festival of Arts (1998 and 2000), the Melbourne International Arts Festival (2002-2004).


She created Ten Days on the Island, an international arts festival for Tasmania, spent two years as Artistic Director of the European Capital of Culture, and advised on the start-up of Luminato in Toronto.


Helix Tree

Helix Tree by Bruce Ramus. Image by Angela Wylie.

In 2007 Archer created The Light In Winter for Federation Square in Melbourne, and in July 2009 was appointed Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra 2013. She is in frequent demand as a speaker and public advocate of the arts all over the world.





In Conversation With Robyn Archer

Wednesday 19 June at RACV Resort

Bookings online





Erica Lovell, appearing in David Williamson’s Happiness

Directed by Sandra Bates and featuring Adriano Cappelletta, Glenn Hazeldine, Peter Kowitz, Mark Lee, Erica Lovell & Anne Tenney of Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre, David Williamson’s Happiness will give you something to think about!


Roland Makepeace (Mark Lee) knows what makes people happy. Why wouldn’t he? He’s an eminent professor of psychology who has devoted his life to scientifically investigating human well-being. But his theories are sorely tested when his wife Hanna (Anne Tenney) meets an old suitor Sam (Peter Kowitz) and his daughter Zelda (Erica Lovell) threatens to go right off the rails.


A sharply observed comedy, just as we have come to expect from David, suggests that theory can sometimes fall well short of reality. And finding happiness is easier said than done.


Rather than previewing the play in Noosa during the Long Weekend as has happened in the past, Ensemble Theatre have already given it a run in their home town (to mixed reviews!). I’m looking forward to seeing it myself!


Tuesday 18  and Wednesday 19 June 7:30pm at The J Theatre


Wednesday 19 June 2pm at The J Theatre


Bookings online



A Radio National Storytelling Show


If you’re not at Happiness on Tuesday night, check out the fabulous story telling session at Noosa Arts Theatre, hosted by Richard Fidler and Melanie Tait, and featuring some very brave people sharing their stories to the theme “The First Time”. It’s like being around a campfire, only there’s a few more people listening.


Tuesday 18 June 6pm at Noosa Arts Theatre


Bookings online