Caress/Ache (The MC Showroom) – theatre review

The sense of touch is put under the microscope in the Victorian premiere of Suzie Miller’s searing drama Caress/Ache. Five actors play out a series of scenarios, all but one filling multiple roles.

Photos by Elyse Batson

Mark (Sorab Kaikobad) is a skilled surgeon operating on an infant girl when things go horribly wrong. There is no way for him to make amends and his downward spiral begins. He distances himself from everyone, including his wife Libby (Fiona Crombie). Saskia (Laura Knaggs) is very much in love with her husband Cameron (Taylor Fong), when she discovers that he slept with her boss. Livid, she grills Cameron for all the details – where, when, how? He professes his love for her and maintains it only happened once.

Arezu (Delaram Ahmadi)’s parents (who we don’t see) escaped tyranny in the Iranian capital Tehran. Increasingly, against her folks’ wishes, Arezu – a name which means “hope” – is drawn back to the country of her birth. Two young women, Belinda (Delaram Ahmadi) and Cate (Laura Knaggs) are phone sex operators. Belinda is the more experienced of the pair. Cate – a single mum struggling to make ends meet – is new to the game. Alice (Fiona Crombie) is desperately seeking government assistance to be able to see and hug her son, Peter (Taylor Fong) one last time in Singapore.

What these stories have in common is that those involved are either yearning for touch or running away from it. Intimacy and anger sit comfortably alongside each other in Miller’s prose. Overall, the work, staged by Silver String Productions, is well acted. I was particularly impressed by the endeavours of Ahmadi, Knaggs and Crombie.

At 95 minutes without interval, I felt the dialogue could have been pared back without losing impact. Some of the multiple vignettes, which intersect, appeared laboured. There were a few flatter patches. The staging consists of simple white modular furniture – the outline of two door frames, four stools, a table etc. Sophie Davis designed the set. On opening night there were a few issues with the lighting, but they are an easy fix.

Notwithstanding the fact that I was intrigued by the narrative, which sees all the character arcs developed, my big bug bear was with the sound. Often music drowned out what the actors were saying. It was too loud and a number of the cast didn’t project well enough. I was sitting in the sixth row and, at times, I couldn’t catch any of the discourse, which I found particularly frustrating. As with the lighting, a few tweaks will address that.

So, while Caress/Ache, directed by Kate Shearman, is definitely worth seeing, there are a few wrinkles that need to be addressed. It is playing at The MC Showroom until 26th November.

Alex First

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