Until 30 July
By Alex First
Love and friendship are tested in the comedic drama This is Living.
Hugh (Marcus McKenzie) and his partner Will (Wil King), both in their 30s, are taking a short break to Hepburn Springs to see in the New Year.
It was costume designer Hugh’s idea and Will, who works in a theatre restaurant, couldn’t talk him out of it.
But there is tension aplenty when they arrive.
It is left to Will to carry all the bags from the car into their well-appointed get away.
Hugh seems out of sorts. His feet hurt, he’s constantly taking his temperature and nothing Will says or does makes a difference.
It turns out that Hugh has been diagnosed with leukemia and recently underwent a transplant, but the doctors don’t yet know whether it has worked.
Hugh and Will have invited three of their older female friends – all in their 50s – to join them at their country retreat.
Heavily self-absorbed, Alex (Belinda McCrory) is presenter of a travel program on Channel 7, titled This is Living.
She recently received an offer to front a rival show for Channel 9.
With an inability to switch off, Jo (Maria Theodorakis) is a wannabe actor with a doctorate who now teaches young actors in the making.
Sharleen (Michelle Perera) is a divorced mother and former writer who is in therapy. She has had more than the odd run in with Alex.
So, as you will have noted, all characters are, or were, in show business in one way or another.
The barbs come thick and fast. Harsh words are exchanged. Many home truths are delivered and almighty blows taken.
Drink and drugs are close at hand and laughs had.
All the while, Hugh’s fragile condition remains front of mind.
Because of his treatment and medication, he is not himself and he pushes Will away. The ladies, too, deal with the fallout.
What was meant to be a pleasant break becomes sorely testing.
Ash Flanders has crafted a densely layered offering, with no shortage of light and shade.
He has written This is Living brilliantly, making sure to include plenty of in-jokes.
Semi-autobiographical (his partner was diagnosed with cancer), he plays on and exposes vulnerabilities.
My only concern with what I saw is that on a number of occasions more than one conversation took place at the same time and actors were talking over each other.
I found that off-putting because my ears couldn’t take everything in.
Also, be aware that words are often exchanged at pace and if you don’t concentrate you could easily miss what was just said.
The performances are top shelf.
Marcus McKenzie superbly captures Hugh’s mental and physical challenges and, with that, his explosive temperament.
Wil King is affable to a fault, but frustrated and guilt riddled as Will.
Belinda McCrory revels in the entitlement synonymous with Alex.
Maria Theodorakis is highly strung as Jo.
Gifted some of the best lines in the piece, Michelle Perera’s sense of comic timing and her delivery of the zingers is masterful.
Director Matthew Lutton has given the actors plenty of opportunity to shine and shine they do.
A large, creative indoor/outdoor set sees the action taking place in the living room, kitchen and a bedroom of the lodgings, as well as out on the patio.
It is the work of Matilda Woodroofe, who is also responsible for the costuming.
Two hours, plus a 20-minute interval, This is Living is playing at Merlyn Theatre at Malthouse Theatre until 30th July, 2023.
About the Author
Alex First believes all people have a story to tell, if only a good playwright can prize it out of them. Alex has a natural curiosity about the world and believes a strong narrative, or narrative with music, can open the door to subjects about which he knows little.
Like his parents before him, theatre is his passion – a passion with emotional resonance, one that moves and excites him. He brings decades’ experience as an arts’ connoisseur to his role as a critic.
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