On the Seaside overview – an achingly lovely depiction of the top of the world

In 1957, Nevil Shute, the British aeronautical engineer, Naval Reserve officer and novelist, wrote of the top of all issues as we all know it in his novel On the Seaside. In his model of Melbourne in 1963, nuclear warfare has worn out indicators of life within the northern hemisphere, and radiation poisoning is drifting on the wind in the direction of town. With only some months to go and no approach to save your self, what issues most? Who will we turn out to be when the world modifications? Can we cease a disaster, or will we lean into it?

Right here in 2023, Tommy Murphy (ABC’s Important Others, Holding the Man) has tailored the novel for the stage in a world that’s particularly delicate to how shut we’re to the top. Now we have been buffeted by pure disasters introduced on by the local weather disaster; we now have lived the eerie twilight of Covid-19 lockdowns; we’re gripped by the horror of Russia-Ukraine warfare. We all know very effectively the stress between destruction overseas and its delayed affect at dwelling. Murphy’s play remains to be set within the Sixties, however it’s suffused with our personal dread and hopelessness; it’s a much-needed vessel for our grief.

Tai Hara, Michelle Lim Davidson and Ben O’Toole in On the Seaside. {Photograph}: Daniel Boud

We first meet Peter (Ben O’Toole) and Mary (Michelle Lim Davidson) who have a look at the top otherwise, however for a similar purpose: they’ve a child lady, and the lack of her future is unconscionable. Peter clings to hope that the world will proper itself, whereas Mary is way more pragmatic. It is a welcome replace from the novel, which dismisses girls as unhelpful to their males in instances of disaster, indulging in flights of fancy and denying exhausting truths. Murphy’s script, which blends traces from the guide with a deeper and extra nuanced exploration of character, is gripping.

When Peter, a navy man, is drafted on to the submarine USS Scorpion for fact-finding, a jumbled transmission from Seattle turns into a promise of reduction – however Mary can’t escape the practicalities of their destiny. Scientist John Osborne (Matthew Backer) is extra sceptical, introduced onboard by the federal government to document the nuclear fallout. Later, we see how he’s dealing with the promise of dying – he’s purchased a Ferrari and is planning to race it in an all-amateur Grand Prix that’s extra of a dying want.

Dwight (Tai Hara), a captain and one in every of just some People who escaped their nation’s destiny, resides in his personal devastating denial, the place his useless spouse and youngsters are nonetheless very current. Peter and Mary introduce him to their buddy Moira (Contessa Treffone) in hopes of maintaining him occupied. She’s a brilliant and thriving presence; their tender look after one another (Murphy’s script builds in additional emotional complexity right here too) creates house for them each to seek out some ultimate moments of grace.

‘Michael Hankin’s set design is evocative of time and house relatively than demonstrative.’ {Photograph}: Daniel Boud

On the Seaside is directed by Kip Williams, STC’s inventive director, who’s greatest identified for his cine-theatre method to productions like The Image of Dorian Grey, which performed sell-out return seasons in Australia and is now heading to the West Finish with Succession’s Sarah Snook within the lead position. There are not any cameras or video screens right here: as an alternative, Williams’ elegant, achingly lovely manufacturing locations folks first, showcasing the vulnerability of our bodies reaching for one another on an usually spare stage.

Michael Hankin’s set design is evocative of time and house relatively than demonstrative, and it offers us very actual room to soak up the story. Grace Ferguson’s sound design is stirring and unhappy, and it dances with Damien Cooper’s lights, which seize one thing about late gentle, shadows and absence, making it really feel all of the stronger when our characters attain out for one another. A set piece is wheeled out to face in as a pier however is later repurposed to characterize Peter and Moira’s veranda and, later, the submarine; identical to that, new worlds are summoned.

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‘It’s desperately unhappy, but it surely’s not desolate’ … Michelle Lim Davidson and Ben O’Toole in On the Seaside. {Photograph}: Daniel Boud

Typically it’s the easy theatrical methods which might be the best. Massive sheets billow within the wind to counsel the menace within the air and it’s as shifting as poetry. Shock costume modifications and intelligent choreography rework one character into the ghost of one other and it looks like a reminiscence. One ultimate, sudden picture on the stage, which shouldn’t be spoiled, is especially arresting. Theatre’s aliveness is a present, and this manufacturing of On the Seaside is in love with life: the methods we join, how exhausting we love, how desperately we attempt to make one thing of our time collectively – even after we know all of it ends.

The play finds its approach to the novel’s bleak ultimate moments and it’s desperately unhappy, but it surely’s not desolate. There’s love right here, and neighborhood and compassion. This manufacturing is a hand reaching out for our personal, a reminder that we’re not but achieved and, crucially, we’re not alone.

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