What happens when our lives are thrown a curve ball? How do we pick ourselves up and continue? Do we even pick ourselves up? What happens to those things we said we’d do, but let mundane plans get in the way?
Australian playwright Sue Smith explores these ideas in co-production between Sydney Theatre Company and State Theatre Company’s 'Machu Picchu'
Paul and Gabby are a familiar, upper-middle class couple. Two successful engineers who live deeply in routine, hope to one day make it to Machu Picchu – when their schedules allow it. Their lives are suddenly in upheaval after a car accident leaves Paul paralysed from the neck down and Gabby physically unscathed.
In 2014, playwright Sue Smith was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and 'Machu Picchu' is her response to this experience. She’s written a wonderfully balanced (and surprisingly humorous) love story capturing the shifts in life and the strange fracturing of day-to-day routines, experiences and relationships when tragedy occurs.
One might be mistaken for believing Australia’s beloved Lisa McCune to be the main character as she graces the poster, but it's Darren Gilshenan’s performance as Paul driving 'Machu Picchu' to strike a chord. In a play that jumps between timelines, Gilshenan brings humor and weight to his role, making his struggle all the more interesting. McCune’s Gabby is strong and well-rounded – it's nice to see McCune taking on a meatier role than we’re probably used to seeing her in. The chemistry between Gilshenan and McCune also helps bring two very realistic characters to life.
Though the secondary characters of family friends, Kim and Marty, feel undercooked and at times border on comedic stereotypes. With a fly away IVF storyline, it feels there is more to be explored. Despite this, both Elena Carapetis and Luke Joslin work hard to draw blood from their stone characters. Renato Musolino does well to work with his new-age yoga/ psychologist role, Lou, but the character seems out of place. Annabel Matheson as Gabby and Paul’s daughter is captivating. A relative newcomer to the stage, she holds her own against acting heavyweights.
Geordie Brookman’s direction is what makes this production work. The strong emphasis on comedic moments adds colour to the performance and really drives the drama forward in a script that perhaps needs more revisions and isn’t quite cooked yet. A highlight of the show is its moments in Paul’s subconscious, having musical numbers and Elvis Presley (KFC in hand) serenade a distressed Paul. These moments create a striking juxaposition that is both unsettling and entertaining.
Mentions must be made to the talented Jonathan Oxlade for creating an uncomfortably sterile set where function and simplicity don’t overwhelm the acting. Similarly, Nigel Leavings’ intense lighting design transforms the space; the contrast between the fluorescent hospital lighting and bold neon’s throughout the show is particularly notable.
At its heart 'Macchu Picchu' is an unconventional love story familiar to all audiences. While perhaps a further refinement of the script might help, the performance is strong and the subject matter is holds an important message to ponder.
'Machu Picchu' plays Adelaide Festival Centre until 1 May.