Sydney writer Chris Aronsten’s play Off the Record has had its world premiere at the New Theatre in Newtown. With some heavy issues covered, this drama has many humorous angles, making it intensely viewable, topical and enjoyable.
Set in London, the story revolves around television presenter Jenny Gosper. As a professional journalist, her passion is getting to the truth. In her quest to expose sexual impropriety by the CEO of a charity in Bangladesh, Jenny must face questions about her own life – her alcoholism, drink-driving incidents, faltering marriage and spiralling career. She also grapples with the question of how much pressure to exert on a whistleblower accountant from whom she depends on for evidence.
Aronsten’s script is tight, witty and effective. His characters are relatable. All are flawed and each seeks rational solutions to their problems. Antagonist Tony Travellan is an ideal villain, incapable of understanding his mistakes and devoid of any empathy for his victims. Director Jess Davis has paced the play well. Dialogue timing is perfect. Sensitive issues remain serious, so the plays intended messages are conveyed strongly. There is commentary on many popular media-stoked issues in Off the Record. Aronsten explores relationship breakdown, addiction, the role of the media and the price that whistleblowers pay to expose corruption and abuse in the workplace. I am reminded of recent high-profile cases (e.g., Prince Andrew/ Brittany Higgins) as other themes dealing with sexual and financial abuse, victim blaming and the justice system are explored.
Characterisations are emphasised through the excellent casting choices. Michela Noonan plays Jenny so well. Michela brings a toughness to this TV anchor role whilst possessing the introspective nature of Jenny’s character. In the role of Tony is Joe Clements. His beefy body language and vocal variety fit right in with the character. With an abuser’s line such as “I’ve done nothing wrong” and a misogynist’s catchcry of “You can’t call a woman crazy anymore”, Joe caught the essence of this character superbly. Playing Janine, the accountant is Suzann James. This character required a degree of eccentricity and quirkiness which Suzann, respectfully delivered in spades. Also of note was Gina Cohen as Ronni. Her calm demeanour and sensible advice as the Alcoholics Anonymous mentor were spot on. She tells Jenny to “make God something you can believe in”. Belinda Hoare as Nadia and Chad Traupmann as Peter interpreted their roles with precision.
The creative team set the atmosphere. The stage used a modular design incorporating a curved backdrop and six hanging rectangular screens. Lighting and sound effects were in harmony with mood changes.
Off the Record is a wonderful theatrical all-rounder. It is clever in plot and dialogue, intelligent in its handling of delicate topics, captivating in presentation and succinct in length. Well done!