In February in Sydney the local scene reasserts itself after a Festival Season-the third Sydney Festival led by Fergus Linehan-this year lots of Circus, Dance, Contemporary Music and little challenge. So it was a pleasure to anticipate THE VERTICAL HOUR by David Hare. A Hare/Shavian challenge of Ideas and Character. The Sydney Theatre Company (now led by Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton) begins its 2008 Season with this.
This play of ideas gives moderate pleasure - its arguments have been well covered in many other mediums (the play is 18 months old!!) so it is not full of confrontation or shocks but rather a bourgeois comfort of familiarity that has a feint whiff of History. Something safely in the past. The other level of the play the Human Relationships are densely present and a tension to the “lectures” but in this case needed deeper mining and revelation by the Director, Julian Meyrick and the actors. Best in the difficult journey in this is Victoria Longely playing Nadia Blye – particularly in the long second act duet with Oliver Lucas (Pip Miller). However the emotional flames don’t quite burn us, but then it needs fuel to do so. Mr Miller gives us a clear, careful journey through the arguments of the play but has, in this performance, (Opening Night) not been able to ignite the human emotional dilemmas, neither the character’s past or the relationship between his son or his girlfriend. One is sure that there is no sexual fire and it makes nonsense of the son’s, Phillip Lucas (Christopher Stollery) fears and suspicions. In the moment when Oliver puts his hand on Nadia’s shoulder and then in her hand there is no sexual tension. Rather a tired and wise old man’s friendly gesture of intellectual support. Mr Stollery is a good support to the play as are Ryan Hayward and Zindzi Okenyo in the book end scenes set in Yale University. The Design (Stephen Curtis) is overblown and the Lighting (Peter Neufield) and Sound Design (Max Lyandvert) efficient. Still, after the drought of intellectual stimulation in the Sydney Festival the audience enjoyed itself.