Review: Small Mouth Sounds, Eternity Playhouse (NSW)

Australian premiere of this mostly silent play leaves audiences unsettled.
Review: Small Mouth Sounds, Eternity Playhouse (NSW)

The cast of Small Mouth Sounds. Image: Robert Catto.

Sit down, and shush.

Six very different people arrive to attend a silent mediation retreat. Over the course of the play, we learn about their lives. Thanks to the setting, the story is mostly told through non-verbal expression – yet it is also bitingly cynical and sarcastic. At the end we are left asking, what is real? Is it all a sham?   

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Small Mouth Sounds is a play that questions the very fabric of society and human nature as well as our quest for the meaning of Life. It also raises environmental concerns about our stewardship of the planet.

Excellently directed by Jo Turner, this production – which is the Australian premiere – has a tremendous cast who give it their all. The clean, elegant set design by Jeremy Allen is based on a blonde and white wooden hall with sliding doors. Chairs and sleeping bags are shifted to indicate changes in locale, and mist is used liberally and effectively.

First of the six to arrive is scruffy Jan (Justin Smith) who sleeps next to what we learn is a photo of his son. Then there’s hunky, self-centred Rodney (Dorje Swallow) who oozes confidence in his cheesecloth and beads, ostentatious even when he’s in mediation.

Next comes Ned (Yalin Ozucelik), squabbling couple Joan (Sharon Millerchip) and Joan (Jane Phegan) whose tense relationship harbors a secret, and ditzy Alicia (Amber McMahon) who arrives with an oversupply of paraphernalia.

The voice of the Guru (Jo Turner – also the play’s director) lays down the rules for attendance – no talking, no phones, no eating in the dorms, clothing is optional at the lake – and shares wisdom that is mostly composed of well-worn platitudes. All the attendees break the rules at some point.

Over the course of the play, we see the characters and relationships emerge through a wonderful range of facial expressions and body language. We see secrets, sadness, rivalries and desire bubbling away. All of the characters have suffered some sort of emotional crisis or pain which surfaces through their interactions.

It is overall a deft ensemble piece. Each of the cast is tremendous, particularly Ozucelic – who has the main monologue of the play as Ned – and Millerchip, who stands out as sunny Joan.

The play is unsettling as it makes us listen with more care than usual. We become aware of every sound – crickets, a pen clicking, birds, coughing, sneezing – and we’re forced to think about our own wellbeing as we observe the characters try to come to terms with their lives.

‘You are not alone,’ the Guru asserts. But are we?

3 and a half stars out of 5 ★★★☆

Small Mouth Sounds
Playwright: Bess Wohl
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip, Yalin Ozucelik, Jane Phegan, Justin Smith, Dorje Swallow, Jo Turner.
3-26 May 2019
Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst Theatre, NSW
Tickets $46 - $59




Lynne Lancaster

Friday 10 May, 2019

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.