Theatre review: The Platypus, Theatre Works

An unflinching play based on real experiences that hits a little too close to home.
Against pink swirly drapes, a man and a woman are sitting on chairs. She on the left is dressed in an old fashioned dress and a wide brimmed hat and carrying a clipboard. He is wearing modern clothes: pants and a shirt. He has his arms wide, in the middle of talking.

After adapting Dario Fo’s 1970 play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, with Sydney Theatre Company in 2018, veteran actor and published author Francis Greenslade (Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell) has written and directed his first original work for theatre, The Platypus. It’s a two-act play that goes behind the veil of a heterosexual relationship to explore how a couple who are working and raising a young child handle the “seven-year itch”.

In the domestic kitchen set, Jessica and Richard are going through the morning routine of getting themselves ready for work and Jack, their son, ready for school. It’s clear from the get-go that Jessica and Richard may have seen eye-to-eye in the past, but a tempest is brewing in the relationship.

This turmoil unfolds in various storytelling modes, with scene titles listed in the program like ‘Limericks’, ‘Screwball (comedy)’, ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Ventriloquist’, indicating the methods used to explore the couple’s individual perspectives and interactions with family, fellow parents and colleagues. A dramatic mirror is held up to the audience to question whether we unwittingly sabotage ourselves because of nostalgia, wistful thinking and not heeding the advice behind the adage “the grass is always greener on the other side”.

Greenslade explains in an interview that his inspiration for using such diverse theatrical styles was to starkly show how, in real life, we each wear a different persona when we’re in public compared to at home. It became his way of telling a truthful story in a non-naturalistic way.

The challenge of blending such different theatre styles together in one show is to keep the audience engaged given the quick transitions. This is masterfully handled by the seasoned performers Rebecca Bower (Jessica) and John Leary (Richard) who work hard with their characterisations, accents and simple costume changes. They’re ably supported by light and sound design, which altogether make each scene distinct, yet part of a coherent whole – even if a small prop from a coat pocket didn’t quite want to cooperate on the night.

Read: Exhibition review: Joke Taxonomy, 138 Gallery

The Platypus skilfully balances ordinary lives and the drama we create for ourselves, with theatrical drama and comedy, to give an unflinching look at real world experiences that may hit a little too close to home.  

The Platypus
Presented by Buckets Nijinsky Productions and Theatre Works
Writer and Director: Francis Greenslade
Producer: James Edwards
Associate Producer: Matt Harvey
Set and Costume Designer: Sarah Tulloch
Lighting Designer: Clare Springett
Sound Designer: David Franzke
Choreography: Kate Denborough
Cast: Rebecca Bower and John Leary

Tickets: $20-$45

The Platypus will be performed at Theatre Works until 6 July 2024.

Catherine C. Turner (she/they) is based in Djilang/Geelong and is an emerging writer, amateur musician, hobby photographer and lifelong arts consumer. She has an honours degree in creative writing from the University of Canberra and an MFA (Cultural Leadership) from NIDA, during which she wrote an original Australian feminist fairy tale.