Friday, 9 February 2018

Sorting Out Rachel at the Ensemble

Here's my thoughts for Artshub


A searing analysis of family relationships.
Sorting Out Rachel
Image: Natalie Saleeba and Chenoa Deemal in Sorting Out Rachel, Photo (c) Heidrun Lohr.
Sorting Out Rachel is the latest play by iconic Australian playwright David Williamson. In this world premiere production, Williamson once again reminds us of his reputation as one of Australia’s most masterful storytellers. In this play he provides us with incisive and witty text commenting on society. He delves into issues such as families; legacy; hidden relationships; entitlement, and making reparation with previous relationships.
On one level, Sorting Out Rachel is a moving, acerbic and very contemporary analysis of intense, intimate family dealings. Other big issues also loom and could possibly cause chaos as Sorting Out Rachel examines belonging and privilege, unacknowledged guilt, separation and disparity.
Tobhiyah Stone Feller’s set design is simple elegant and fluid, including some wonderful atmospheric video and accompanied by Christopher Page‘s wonderful lighting. The set is basically a grey household wall with two doors and assorted props (photos, chairs, the rug on the floor and the like).The disparity between the various elements in Bruce’s family’s lives is perhaps indicated by the way the major upper part of the wall is decorative and expensive looking while there is plain grey below the white rail.
Image: John Howard and Chenoa Deemal in Sorting Out Rachel. Photo (c) Heidrun Lohr.
When the play begins the first person we meet is Tess (Chenoa Deemal) waiting impatiently at a waterside cafĂ©. The person she is expecting is late. Just as she becomes fed up and is about to leave, Bruce (John Howard) arrives. He is gruff and jovial but Tess has organised the meeting to raise important issues and will not be discouraged. 
Bruce is Tess’ father, he supports her (to a certain extent) but does not acknowledge her. Tess is the daughter of Bruce’s abruptly ended, long term, secret liaison with Tess' mother Amy, a Murri woman who ran his household. What Tess demands from the now widowed Bruce, and her hard-line stance on it, will impact not only this millionaire’s life but that of his other, acknowledged daughter Julie (Natalie Saleeba) and her family. Particularly Bruce’s granddaughter, Rachel, who is roughly the same age as Tess. Tess also therefore becomes the springboard for Bruce to ponder his enormous wealth as a chance to do good for the community and also helps us consider the many layers of the cultural divide we confront.
Jenna Owen as Rachel is an explosive teenager – stressed out, perhaps overly histrionic and intense as she completes the HSC. We can see some of her parent’s mannerisms (Julie’s stance, Craig’s rather wacky sense of humour) and also Bruce’s mannerisms in her. She is also excellent at manipulating her parents to get what she wants.
Image: Natalie Saleeba, Jenna Owen and Glenn Hazeldine in Sorting Out Rachel.Photo (c) Heidrun Lohr. 
John Howard plays Bruce with assured command. Bruce’s thoughts begin to turn to his stressed daughter Julie, her social climbing husband Craig (Glenn Hazeldine) and his granddaughter Rachel who takes after him quite a bit. We see Bruce’s narcissism – his blustering ruthlessness and financial savvy that made him a fine business tycoon interposed with some of the regrets he now has as he ages.
Natalie Saleeba is terrific as stressed Julie, played with enormous grace as she finds her inner strength and deals with her wayward daughter. She feels she is a terrible mum and has a great unnecessary feeling of guilt. As Julie, Saleeba emotionally travels the biggest arc of the play and her transformation when it eventually occurs is greeted by cheers and applause. Julie accepts advice from Bruce to deal not just with Rachel but the problems of her marriage.
Glenn Hazeldine as Craig is suave, charming with an oily veneer and unscrupulous yet forgivable. He is a bit of a dreamer and always seems to have schemes that are far too obvious, yet he is always ready to twist situations to the best advantage for himself.
Image: John Howard, Natalie Saleeba and Glenn Hazeldine in Sorting Out Rachel. Photo (c) Heidrun Lohr.
Given the enormous amount of money involved, Sorting Out Rachel is not an ordinary Australian story. The intense scenes depicting fracturing relationships, where family members plot and scheme over the massive inheritance would echo with many.
It is also a ‘father knows best’ story where Bruce intercedes in his daughter Julie's life, and manages to turn it around. There are many issues and layers giving the audience plenty to pause on and consider.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Sorting Out Rachel
By David Williamson
Ensemble Theatre 19 January -17 March 2018
Playwright David Williamson
Director Nadia Tass
Cast includes Chenoa Deemal Glenn Hazeldine John Howard Jenna Owen Natalie Saleeba

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