Review: The Norman Mailer Anecdote @ Queensland Theatre

'The Norman Mailer Anecdote'
Lloyd Marken likes to believe everyone has a story and one of the great privileges of his life has been in recent years to tell stories as a freelance writer. He has proudly contributed to scenestr magazine since 2017 and hopes to continue long into the future.

A wife. Her husband. Their daughter. An evening in their house that will change everything, as an accusation hangs in the air and secrets are to be revealed.

‘The Norman Mailer Anecdote’ is at its most interesting when it remains ambivalent and nuanced. When it argues the legalities of a system which clearly does not protect victims in the age of social media, and a culture which doesn’t allow second chances when reputations can be destroyed in an instant – it is provocative and compelling.

All three characters are not quite what they seem at first, and all suffer a fate brought on by their own insecurities. There is Helen played by Zoe Houghton, a successful lawyer about to be made partner and the person ruling the household. Marshall, her academic husband played by Christopher Sommers, is softer in body and spirit, sensitive and supportive to the women in his life. Then, there is Hattie Clegg-Robinson’s Samantha, a high-achieving student with all the declarative confidence of youth. The women are on the precipice of ascending to their goals this night, when the man comes home to advise he has been accused of sexual assault from years ago.

The three actors perform well off each other, they don’t always nail the overflowing dialogue, but they clearly establish the family dynamic that is at risk of being torn apart. Sommers in particular is very convincing here as someone who is likeable and sincere, and yet, is he hiding something? Even from himself?

Madeleine Barlow’s production design of timber neon lights creates a homely space that also suggests affluence. Director Julian Curtis keeps the play’s pace moving – there is no fat in the telling of this story, even as it gradually unwinds its mysteries.

When the writing by Anthony Mullins is dealing with a husband and wife disappointed by whom the person they married turned out to be, how memories change with individual perspectives, or deals with the culpability of a situation that Samantha finds herself in, it is quite riveting.

While there is a lot to recommend and unpack about the play, early on something does not quite sit right in the reactions to news of the accusation, and so as the play rises in a damning crescendo to its climax, it rings a little disappointing. Horrifying as the ending is, it might have hit harder if it had retained some uncertainty in the answers it provided.

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