This week I had the great fortune of seeing the Sydney Theatre Company's production of The Present. Directed by John Crowley, the ensemble cast included Richard Roxburgh, Cate Blanchett, Chris Ryan, Jacqueline McKenzie, Toby Schmitz, Marshall Napier, Susan Prior and many more.
Set in Russia in the mid 1990s - as evident in the fashion, music and dialogue - Anna (Blanchett) has invited a gaggle of friends to her country house to celebrate her 40th birthday weekend. Among the partygoers are her adult stepson Sergei (Ryan), his new wife Sophia (McKenzie), disillusioned school teacher Mikhail (Roxburgh) and his wife Sasha (Prior), obnoxious doctor Nikolai (Schmitz) and his young girlfriend Maria (Anna Bamford). Unknown at the outset, there are a number of past relationships, secret infatuations and unfulfilled desires among this group.
Anna is at a crossroads. Recently widowed by the death of "The General" she finds herself alone, at 40, with many debts. Consequently she has invited two wealthy older men to the party, Yegor (David Downer) and Alexei (Martin Jacobs) with the hopes of perhaps snaring one of them to secure her future.
From the moment Blanchett walked on stage it was clear that The Present was going to deliver a terrific evening of theatre. Over the next three hours the audience laughed aloud at the witty dialogue, absurd scenarios and drunken antics of the partygoers. I had not expected so much hilarity - the party scene alone was worth the price of admission.
Crowley's staging was brilliant allowing overlapping dialogues, and displaying the highs and lows of the gathering. The sets were clever and the music was perfect - The Clash's 'London Calling' and Haddaway's 'What is Love' among the highlights.
Andrew Upton has done something wonderful in adapting Anton Chekov's untitled play, commonly known as Platonov. He has made it feel fresh and contemporary, and very Australian despite it's Russian setting. The dialogue, peppered with slang and curse words, is sharp and savvy.
Blanchett and Roxburgh are definitely the drawcards and the do not disappoint. Roxburgh channels his Rake with Mikhail's womanising, drunken antics. Blanchett is incredible, delivering such a range of emotions, that it is hard to keep yours eyes off her. But both of them respect the ensemble nature of the play and allow the rest of the cast to showcase their talents.
The Sydney Theatre Company produce such great work and has been blessed to have Upton and Blanchett at the helm these past few years. They will be missed when the leave Australia later this year.
My review of the Sydney Theatre Company's Macbeth, starring Hugo Weaving is also on this blog.