Thirty-Three by Red Scarf Theatre: Where Fractious Relationships Mix with Love And Humour

Down to a black and narrow stair, I enter the intimate space of Leicester Square Theatre – a semi-hidden door behind the namesake garden in central London. The show of the night is Thirty-Three, Australian new writing at its UK premiere. I purposely sit on the front row and have the chance to completely immerse in the friendly atmosphere the few props have already set.

If the mention of the Southern hemisphere points to a play rather far from the messy and hectic life of Europe – in my imagination, Australia looks like an untouched island, where houses have large backyards and people don’t work in overcrowded offices -, test your views again. “Human” would be the best adjective to describe the story unfolding, and it doesn’t really cling to any specific country.

Red Scarf Theatre brings to the scene a dense play. Based in London, the theatre company was founded in 2015, with the aim to promote more Australian writing, like their debut production Ride - presented at the Edinburgh Festival and Camden Fringe. Thirty-Three has been sponsored by World Class Teachers, teaching agency with close connections to Australian teachers in London.

Needless to say, half of the cast was born or has lived for a while in Australia. Like Ben Dalton (interpreting Lachlan) who has grown up in Sydney where he followed his passion for surfing, before falling in love with theatre. Shannon Steele (Lily), instead, was born in Australia, finished her degree in New Zealand, and undertook an honour year examining political theatre.

Michael Booth and Alistair Powning, an Australian duo experienced in movie and theatre, are the hands behind the script, which will be adapted for the screen this year. Award winning documentary filmmaker, the director Kai Raisbek, like the writers, is also involved in the movie industry. His credits include works for the Sydney Opera House.

The intimate setting of one of the two spaces at the Leicester Square Theatre has allowed a more immersive experience. From the director asking to the audience to hold back bags and keep their feet off the stage, to the smell of alcohol reaching the public’s nostrils, to the great ability of the actors to fill the room with the movements and, at the same time, contain voice and noise within the cosy space – where the risk of resounding was quite high.

 The point is not really who is the most rotten inside

Thirty-Three are the years of the protagonist. What would you achieve – or have achieved – at that age? Saskia (interpreted by Corinne Furlong) is a teacher, lives in a beautiful new house, and is surrounded by the friends of a lifetime – and occasional passionate guys. On the evening of her birthday party, a member of the family knocks at the door. Her brother, Joshua (Doug Hansell) shows up after three years of disappearance, prompted now by apparently no other reasons than to celebrate his sister’s birthday. What comes next is a night of hidden truths – Saskia’s motherly duties towards her brother –, secrets revealed – love and unstable marriage of Tim (Christopher Birks) and Maya (Amy Domenica) -, and moments of laughs brought by the excessive mood of the night – especially thanks to the expedients of Lachlan.

Despite some wise words from Joshua, there is no moral statement at the end of the play. Saskia’s life is perfect from the outside, but within the walls of her house, the woman and friends show the imperfect addictions that sustain the whole construction. The point is not really who is the most rotten inside. Also, Joshua has his shameful confession, in addition to the irresponsible behaviour at their father’s death.

There is anger, there are broken feelings, there is the carefree search for another thrill.

On the stage, there are the entangled relationships among people, from which the characters try to free themselves from, either fed up with the current state or feeling the situation a failure of their own ambitions.

It’s not about forgetting the boredom with boozes and momentous excitements, but rather the attempts to reach perfection – in the lifestyle, in the enjoyment of the night, in the relations. It’s not about family traumas coming to the daylight, but who are the people the characters trust.

And here comes indeed another point: apart from enjoying altogether in the moment, no common project, no lasting love appears possible. A marriage is on the way of being ended soon and the brother and sister don’t find any more of that alchemy that is supposed to be the glue of a family.

The original script was set in Sydney, but the show doesn’t suffer at all the relocation. This can be the story happening in London’s – small – houses as well as in New York’s illuminated skyscraper flats.

Talking about the play, director Kai Raisbeck said: “It’s hard to read this play without recognising one of the characters, either in yourself or amongst your friends.”  

The writing flows beautifully. The performance keeps a good rhythm, and the running time perfectly encapsulates all fractious relations and part of their resolutions.

The major setting is Saskia’s house, although now and then the characters move into the garden, where the crucial and most revealing conversations happen, 

The audience can feel the connection with everyone’s striving moments, especially in London where many people hide behind impossible models, losing along the way some of the loved and dear relations.

Thirty-Three is showing at the Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday 24th June.

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