Review by Jake Goodall
Ad Astra Theatre takes us back to the 90s with their rendition of Marvin’s Room, a stunning look into family trouble and the way we all have to keep pushing through
Directed by Roslyn Johnson, Ad Astra’s Marvin’s Room is enthralling from top to bottom. This rendition of Scott McPherson’s famous play is something magical. Marvin’s Room remains as a fantastic realism play commenting on the trials and tribulations of life.
The story follows Bessie, an extremely strong-willed woman who devotes her life to care for her bedridden father and eccentric aunt, Ruth. After Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia, her estranged sister, Lee, comes to visit and to be tested as a potential bone marrow donor for her sister. The reunion between the sisters is initially uncomfortable, aggravated by the difficult behaviour of Lee’s two sons, Hank and Charlie. The two women eventually confront their shortcomings as sisters and arrive at an understanding about the importance of family.
With direction by Roslyn Johnson this production captivates the audience and intrigues them at every turn. With the added challenge of such an intimate theatre (with the audience less than 1m away from the actors) Johson took this in her stride utilising the audience’s viewpoints at every opportunity. Assisted by Meg-Louise Snieder, it is evident that Johnson and Snieder took care in every blocking and movement choice. On occasion the blocking felt a bit forced, however, as the production continues it is sure to become more natural for the actors.
The Technical Design by Donovan Wagner is stunning. The use of pop hits during transitions helps to solidify the time and setting of the piece. Along with fantastic lighting, this really immerses the audience in the struggle of the characters. A special mention goes out to the strobe effect and the ‘it’s a small world after all’ soundtrack playing whilst the cast are at Disney World, a perfect juxtaposition! You’ll have to see the show to find out what we mean!
The Set Design & Construction by Ian Johnson is ingenious. With such an intimate space, Johnson has to be careful and specific with every piece. Creating such a perfect 90’s home was impressive, right down to the décor. Stocking the cupboard and drawers with other items rather than just props creates a spectacularly realistic house! One questionable choice is the room Marvin is held in. It is quite large and bulky, seeming slightly oversized for its use. Potentially the room could have been off stage or at the back. That being said, beautiful spinning lights in the room are cleverly utilised to change the setting of the play each time.
Leading this cast is Fiona Kennedy as Bessie and Elise Lamb as Lee.Tthese two actors are seasoned professionals and you can see this in their performance. Kennedy portrays Bessie beautifully, holding it all together until the end where she breaks down. It truly is a spellbinding performance. Lamb as the estranged sister is a perfect casting choice. Lamb is hilarious with her hard-hitting one-liners and hysterical movements. And when it comes down to it, Lamb shows the intricate, softer side of Lee with skill and grace.
Jayden and Kieran McGinlay play the roles of Hank and Charlie respectively. As Hank, Jayden plays this troubled teen with aggression and slyness. Effectively making Hank a character the audience can’t decide if they like. Jayden’s obvious acting training shines through in this role showing us the softer side of Hank when he is with Bessie and the tough Hank with his mother, Lee. As Charlie, Kieran plays this quiet, nerdy teen with ease. Showing compassion at all times with his head stuck in a book is no easy feat!
Phillipa Bowe as Aunt Ruth is the comedic genius of this production. Bowe’s movement and characterisation is hilarious as the eccentric older aunt that we all have in our family! Bowe creates light in every situation and helps the cast lift on stage. Tom Harwood as Dr Wally is another comedic highlight of this production. As the forgetful mishearing doctor, Harwood creates comedy even in the toughest of situations.
Rounding out this fantastic cast is Marita McVeigh as Dr Charlotte/Retirement Home Director and Nicolas Sayers as Bob. Both McVeigh and Sayers play their roles with grace and ease, doubling as the stage crew; striking and setting the stage at incredible pace. Playing an onstage role and being stage crew at the same time is no easy feat so commendation must be given to both of these actors!
The only downside to this production is the use of blackouts. Every time a scene ends, we come into a blackout, which seems unnecessary. However thankfully they didn’t distract from the storyline as the transitions were mostly quick and short.
Overall, Ad Astra’s production of Marvin’s Room is hilarious and gut wrenching. Though there are challenges for the team, the entire cast and crew have created a fantastic night out for anyone, and it is worth the trip into the Valley!
Marvin’s Room is on stage until the 24th of September 2022 at Ad Astra. For more information and tickets visit Ad Astra’s website!