Review: Luna Gale, Ensemble Theatre

Judith Greenaway

Luna Gale is a production which guides its audience through a journey of unreliable ethical, religious and humanist first impressions to a place of disturbing and ferocious self-reflection.
Review: Luna Gale, Ensemble Theatre

Georgie Parker as Caroline in Luna Gale. Photo by Phil Erbacher.

Quite simply, there is not one character in Luna Gale who is the person the audience thinks they are at first meeting. Each of these people will collide with viewers’ perceptions and confront any instant opinions with an insinuating and devastating power.  With a flawless ensemble of acting and writing, which creeps disclosure closer with each scene, the force of this production is in its compassion, moral complexity and its exhortation to withhold judgement.

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There are two junkies in an institutional waiting room. Scum in their representation before us and in the 25 years of experience brought to the situation by Caroline, their veteran Social Worker. Surely no one could consider Karlie and Peter capable of parenting their baby daughter, Luna. Not Caroline, not Karlie’s mother, Cindy, and certainly not Caroline’s boss and career bureaucrat, Cliff. 

Luna Gale (2014) by Rebecca Gilman begins in observation of this simplicity. There’s an early light touch at some of the absurdities of Caroline’s professional acquaintance before Gilman leads her audience to a look away climax. In the achievement of this gut punch ending, Gilman is enabled in this production by expert direction from Susanna Dowling and an entrusted cast.

Ebony Vagulans and Georgie Parker in Luna Gale. Photo by Phil Erbacher.

Georgie Parker is brisk, worn and open-handed as Caroline in a nuanced and wry performance that wrenches the spirit as the play discloses. As Karlie, Lucy Heffernan is brittle and broken and volatile, with Heffernan assailing the druggie tropes with a performance blasting reality with passion one minute and obfuscation the next. In Jacob Warner’s Peter, we have a boy.  A lost boy, a torn boy who is, yet again, not as he first appears in that initially unknowable and shut down state. But it is in Michelle Doake’s Cindy that the rush to judgement is most sensitively critiqued. Doake’s performance is so replete with the imperative of doing good, yet … as nodding and smiling give way to headshaking and frowning to understand, discomfort rises in the chest.

The unease with which the play will leave its audience is amplified by the excellence of its technical creation. The costumes change character with each person’s growth and change. The set never lets go of that institutional air that swirls around the legal and authoritarian issues of the play, with the upstage wall consisting of sliding grey panels that move with ease to expose key ins to the locations of events. Add to this, cheaply veneered doors and outdated burnt orange chairs and there is a depressed officialdom implied. The scene changes are completed by the cast in character to some very effective music. The warmth of wood instruments is mitigated by tensions in the pitch and there is some excellent use of distant noise and a remote speaker. The light is effectively bright without glare and enhanced by subtle use of mood setting colour in the upper translucent panels.

Luna Gale is a production which guides its audience through a journey of unreliable ethical, religious and humanist first impressions to a place of disturbing and ferocious self-reflection. 

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆ 

Luna Gale

By Rebecca Gilman

Ensemble Theatre

Director: Susanna Dowling

Cindy: Michelle Doake

Karlie: Lucy Heffernan

Caroline: Georgie Parker

Peter: Jacob Warner

Set & Costume Designer: Simone Romaniuk

Lighting Designer: Nicholas Higgins

Sound Designer: Marty Jamieson

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers.  She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.