Dec 2, 2007

Toy Symphony

Toy Symphony is a triumphant return for two heavyweights of the Australian stage. Firstly, this magnificent piece of theatre now showing at the Belvoir, is esteemed playwright Michael Gow's first work in 10 years. Secondly, it represents Richard Roxburgh's first appearance on a stage in 7 years. Thankfully, for those that love imaginative, engrossing and revelatory theatre Toy Symphony is an extreme success. To put it plainly, this play is as fine a piece of theatre that I have seen in years. Rewarding to the extreme, its strengths are many. Just pure magic.

Roland Henning (Roxburgh) enters a sparsely decorated stage, just a plain brown chair adorns it. He is a gifted playwright suffering from writer's block. He is soon joined by Nina (Justine Clarke), his therapist who is trying to cure his troubles. There then follows a lengthy scene as the two characters go back and forth. He is cynical and bitter. She is frustrated and caring. The scene is engrossing, but has been done before. But before you can perhaps settle into a pattern that you might suspect the play will follow, the play bursts into a multitude of scenes that will bewilder and dazzle. Confuse and endear. Leave you ragged and raptured. Basically, the play becomes a dazzling trip into the mind of Roland as we are transported into his childhood. We learn of his experiences as young boy and as a teenager, experiences that formed the man we see now. We discover the heartfelt connection to his teacher Mrs Walkham (Monica Maughan), his vivid imagination that enables him to create historical characters before everyone's eyes (these scenes are incredibly humorous and tender) and the persecution he suffered from school bullies and school doctors. Out of all this he starts to write, including a fanciful play based around the story of Haydn's "Toy Symphony". The significance of this childhood play will become evident in a crucial scene towards the climax of the play. All these continuous flashback scenes never descend into cliche. In fact they are full of magic and pain, heart and soul. They actually reveal the journey that the grown man has under taken. Roxburgh is quite incredible as the troubled lead. He is at once arrogant and tender, difficult yet heartbreakingly real. The performance is one to marvel at. All the cast are exemplary, including Russell Dykstra and Guy Edmonds in important support roles. Gow has written what seems quite a personal work. There are scenes that discuss the pain of artistic block and the questioning of the theatre's importance and relevance. There is a touching connection to growing up in suburban Como and the questioning of life after Roland's parents pass away. Director Neil Armfield has expertly taken the finely detailed script and welded it with great surety to the skill of the talented cast. The end product is theatre that will have your heart breaking and your face sparkling, most often in the same scene. This is on stage drama of many layers and levels. It deserves all the plaudits it is receiving.

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