The Charade (The MC Showroom) – theatre review

A dysfunctional family gathers for the first time in a decade two months after the passing of the three adult daughters’ mother. Suffice to say, the “girls” are not looking forward to the experience. In fact, they are approaching it with dread. They have been brought together by their father, Terry (Anthony Edward), who left his wife (their mother) many years earlier. He was an absent father … never there for his children while they were growing up.

Photos by Cameron Grant from Parenthesy

Terry took up with and has since married Sherry (Emily Farrell), a woman much younger than him. Together, they have built a large house. Terry did not attend his ex-wife’s funeral because he was off galivanting with Sherry and that very much remains a sore point with his children. While the intent of the get together is to honour the young women’s mother, the atmosphere is tense from the outset. Belligerent, Terry has strong opinions about everything and he imposes his will on conversations. Sherry is equally overwhelming, tiringly over-the-top enthusiastic, keen to inveigle herself into the lives of Terry’s children and their partners.

Alex (Georgina Charteris), who works in a law firm, is in a five-week relationship with Jupiter (Lucy May Knight). Jupiter has moved down from Sydney to be with her. Never backward in coming forward, Alex immediately locks horns with her father, who calls her out for her drinking. Things quickly deteriorate from there. Alex is holding on to a powder keg of a secret, one which threatens to explode the family reunion.

Primary school teacher Chrissy (Rosa Ablett-Johnstone) arrives with her nice guy fiancé Ollie (Sebastian Lamour). They are living in Chrissy’s mother’s old home. That is where Chrissy wants to remain, but her father determines she has to sell and Ollie is also keen on that idea. For her part, Sherry is pushing Chrissy to start a family, which Chrissy isn’t buying into. IT specialist Jessie (Siobhan Larkin) is the real outsider, who feels sidelined and has had a fraught relationship with both her mother and father.

What an incendiary script Emily Farrell has written! This is the family from hell. The manipulation is off the charts. The language used is so deliberately “in your face”. Of course, with Farrell’s approach, namely in pushing the audience’s “buttons”, as well as those of the protagonists, the reactions of the former are palpable. We are shocked, horrified and amused by the carryings on. Make no mistake, despite the nuclear fallout, there is no shortage of humour, including pithy one-liners, in the piece.

Overall, the approach taken is one of psychodrama. This is a deep dive into a family in which there are significant power imbalances that have had an unhealthy and lost lasting impact. The Charade poses the question why do people choose to remain in toxic relationships when they will never be accepted for who they are? Nevertheless, breaking the cycle … getting out and getting away can be extremely unsettling and difficult.

Many of the actors have dialled up their characterisations to overdrive to milk their parts. I was particularly impressed by the naturalistic performance of Siobhan Larkin, who really comes into her own later in the work. The other to really make her mark on me was Lucy May Knight, who imbues Jupiter with pragmatism and warmth, and retains a glint in her eye. I also appreciated the diverse set design, representing Terry and Sherry’s home, which is where all the action takes place. Interplay occurs in the living room, the study, the dining room and on the outside of the house, all of which have been embraced.

The Charade is a gloriously distressing hoot … a compelling, Jerry Springer-like train wreck, which begs for a visceral response. Directed by Jaz Balmer, it is playing at The MC Showoom until 11th June, 2023.

Alex First

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