The aesthetically stylish production is strongest when it departs from realism.
Madelaine Nunn. Photo: Sarah Walker.
Reflective of the Aristotelian principles of order, definiteness, and symmetry, The Three Graces is aesthetically stylish. The production does a lot with little to great effect. The audience is arranged as witnesses to a catwalk-like ‘stage’: a strip of sand, artfully illuminated by lighting designer Rachel Lee. This minimalism allows the three actors to be observed at all times, from both sides. The quality of light is integral to the emotional tonality of the performance, affecting how the performers are seen in their mobile incarnations as the immortal Graces, as statues, and as contemporary women playing out scenes of daily domestic decisions.
Madelaine Nunn, Candace Miles, and Anna Rodway are well-choreographed by director Katie Cawthorne, forming nimble montages, rebounding off each other, and utilising their bodies in what is quite a physical show. Initially smooth, the surface of the sand becomes a palimpsest of footprints and skid marks as the actors move, its texture a sophisticated reflection of the dynamism of the Graces’ feelings.
Laura Lethlean’s writing is strongest when the Graces are allowed to be Graces, departing from the stifling compulsion toward realism in the Australian theatre tradition. In Greek mythology, the Graces are generally thought to be daughters of Zeus, minor goddesses in their own right, representing various virtues. Across millennia they have been depicted, by male artists, as nubile beauties, divest of power. However, there are even older echoes, with associations of fertility sacrifice rituals and the underworld. Lethlean has her Graces muse: ‘What was before us?’ staring out at the audience as if upon them projected shadows flickered, like in Plato’s Cave. Shifting her performers into the present, giving them modern dilemmas of gender relations and environmental responsibility, she reinforces Plato’s point that humanity is more comfortable in ignorance, and averse to change even in the face of existential crisis.
From the Graces’ timeless or ‘atemporal’ plane, to what one might imagine as a generic urban West where a certain stripe of White, heterosexual, cis women’s experience plays out, the movement leans toward climaxes that never quite materialise. While the actors are capable and charismatic, the contemporary scenes feel more like set-pieces, with scant emotional stakes or investment where the action is striving for significance. Restored as Graces, the questions posed fall more boldly and with greater weight. The paradox is, that while this is unarguably lush to look at, it only momentarily transcends its own eye candy.
3 stars out of 5 ★★★
The Three Graces
presented by Theatre Works and The Anchor
Written by Laura Lethlean
Directed by Katie Cawthorne
22 May-2 June 2019
Theatre Works, St Kilda VIC