This Year's Ashes

Lynne Lancaster

GRIFFIN: Jane Bodie's new play is a touching urban fable of connection and redemption, of moving and moving on.
This Year's Ashes
A marvelous play about family relationships, loneliness, and… cricket? It might sound weird but Jane Bodie’s lyrical, bittersweet comedy This Year’s Ashes really works.

Is Ellen (magnificently played by Belinda Bromilow) going slightly mad? She is spiraling into a cycle of drink and despair, having moved to Sydney from Melbourne and now stuck in a marketing job she hates. Ellen is attempting to drink herself to death, and spends most nights propping up bars, getting totally sloshed. We see how she has embarked on a deadening series of one night stands, resolutely resolving Not To Become Emotionally Involved. We are reminded how new cities, when you first move, can be scary, cold and alienating places. Ellen has no time in her frantic schedule to cope with loneliness and other emotional problems.

As Brian, Ellen’s father, Tony Llewellyn-Jones is marvellous, performing with charming warmth and gentleness. Brian and Ellen share the family tradition of listening to the cricket on the radio, and for most of the play he is clad in Ellen’s borrowed bathrobe, leading this reviewer to wonder if he was real, or an affectionate figment of Ellen’s imagination. Is he dead? He certainly has a beautiful, lyrical line about death, as well as a complicated speech in which he tries to explain the ins and outs of cricket to Ellen.

All the other male characters are played terrifically by Nathan Lovejoy. Tall and gangly, he is a blur in Ellen’s mind. Lovejoy plays her various sexual partners with great comic timing, sensitivity and compassion. He is at times a motor mouth, filling awkward silences with inanities; at other times frisky and puppyish in his enthusiasm. Like the audience he is confused – what does Ellen want from him?

Bodie’s script is powerful and contemporary, featuring very strong language at times, but also soaringly and entrancing passages such as Adam’s New Year’s Eve speech.

As the intimate Griffin space is so small, it is as if we are in Ellen’s cramped studio apartment. When the play opens there are clothes strewn all over the floor. Act Two sees masses of tumbleweeds everywhere (symbolic of Ellen’s crumbling psyche and inner despair?) The set is dominated by the bed, with beige covers, in various stages of tidiness. Ellen keeps the blinds of her apartment firmly closed to block out the stunning view, but we are most definitely reminded that this is a Sydney play, with marvellous evocations of Sydney in a sparkling summer, with references to the harbour, jacarandas, and the Sydney Opera House.

This world premiere season of This Year’s Ashes is excellently written and terrifically performed. A small, glowing treasure, and possibly a new Australian classic.

Rating: Four and a half stars

Griffin Theatre Company present
This Year’s Ashes
By Jane Bodie
Director: Shannon Murphy
Designer: Rita Carmody
Lighting Designer: Verity Hampson
Composer: Steve Francis
Sound Designer: Nate Edmonson
Cast: Belinda Bromilow, Tony Llewellyn-Jones and Nathan Lovejoy

SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross
October 7 – November 19

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.