It’s true but tedious: there are two sides to every argument, and Scenes From A Separation gives this factoid dramatic and largely entertaining form.
In Act One, we are told of the collapsing marriage of Nina Moss (Georgie Parker) and Matthew Molyneux (Nicholas Eadie) from Matthew’s point of view. In Act Two, it’s Nina’s turn, and a richer picture of their relationship takes shape.
The play was first staged in 1995 and playwrights Andrew Bovell and Hannie Rayson provided some updates to set this production in 2004 (with mixed success, but more on this later).
The theatrical conceit is at times thrilling. The stage is divided in two by a series of shuttered doors: downstage is audible and performed; upstage is somewhat hidden and silent.
When the narrative is effectively retold in Act Two the stage flips (at least conceptually) and we’re shown whole scenes previously only witnessed as background rhubarbing.
Thankfully, Rayson and Bovell are smart enough to resist battle of the sexes clich? There are some lovely insights and genuine pathos here -“ not surprising given Bovell is the author of Holy Day and Rayson penned Inheritance, two of the best Australian plays in recent years.
The text is also given heart by passionate work from Eadie and Parker and there’s a crowd-pleasing turn by Robyn Nevin’s daughter Emily Russell as Nina -“ a performance that more than vindicates her casting.
Yet the ambitious structure and second act retelling means there are serious and perhaps unavoidable lulls. The updating of the play is also frustrating, mostly due to a subplot involving the publication of a gay novel.
Matthew is a publisher, under pressure from employee Siobhan (Sophie Gregg) to branch out into gay fiction, which she insists has never been a genre before. In 2004?
It’s an unfortunate anachronism, in an otherwise intriguing contemporary tragedy.
Scenes From A Separation is showing until 11 December at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House. Phone 9250 1777.