"We see a man fixed to a couch, fixed to his weight, set fixedly upon one inevitable end."
Samuel D Hunter's The Whale is the latest instalment from Red Line Productions, and it's a continuation of their stellar programme, complete with competent direction and authentic acting. Keith Agius plays Charlie, a 600-pound man who refuses to go to hospital and sinks further and further into his couch. The stage is populated with Liz (Meredith Penman), a nurse and friend; Elder Thomas (Alex Beauman), a Mormon door-knocker; Ellie (Chloe Bayliss), Charlie's 17-year-old daughter; and Mary (Hannah Waterman), Charlie's ex-wife. Their differences are extreme but well balanced. Charlie plays the gravitational centre, a meteor heading on a fixed course towards its own oblivion. It is the role of the other players to save him, each in their own way. From the very beginning though, we see a man fixed to a couch, fixed to his weight, set fixedly upon one inevitable end.
The show is superbly well polished, and is a refreshing representation of Sydney's realist theatre scene. Its director, Shane Anthony, has teased from the text a sincere and sensitive drama. The play's chapter format does see its action interrupted constantly by blackouts and jumps in time but the actors maintain the energy in spite of this. Agius is as large a performer as his character is in the play. He is thoughtful, tender and optimistic in the face of his self-imposed demise. It requires a substantial actor to successfully negotiate the extreme physicality and emotional range that Charlie's character demands. He is most well met by Penman's Liz, whose time on stage is moving and effortless.
For a traditionally realist production without pretence, The Whale is a fantastic night out.
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