Wild Surmise at the Malthouse: a stellar production

wild surmise at the malthoueLove, death and astrophysics. And poetry, of course. That’s the bottom line of Wild Surmise, a two-person play now showing at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, based on the verse novel by Dorothy Porter.

It’s a wonderful show, a little over an hour long, sharp, affecting, endearing. Jane Montgomery Griffiths is Alex, sometimes narrating herself in the third person, sometimes the first, always on the ball. How effortlessly she changes accents!

And balancing her is Humphrey Bower’s Daniel, Alex’s husband, disaffected university lecturer, lover of poetry, terminally ill, watching life and his wife’s love slip away and helpless to hold on to either. At least he has his poets for some slim comfort … and that lemon tree, that garden, that morning coffee.

Alex is an astronomer with a passion for Europa and, more tragically, American counterpart Phoebe; trapped between the cold light of her lover and the dark days of her husband, she is forced to declare at one gripping point, ‘My life is fucked.’

Powered by Porter’s stunning prose, replete with astronomical and oceanic metaphors, the play runs on the passion of the two leads, who deliver such honest, proficient performances, it’s hard not to get swept up in their drama. There is humour, sorrow, such longing …

Once again, the Malthouse stage setting is to the fore, the two often separated by a glass wall successively stripped of pages of text to reveal the mirrored room beyond. There are four chairs and two coffee machines and the lighting is spot on.

Amazing, isn’t it, how such a simple set, and such a simple set-up, can be so powerful in the hands of skilled artisans.

Add in a splendid dinner served and eaten inside an hour at the Malthouse’s restaurant, and it was a very filling evening indeed.

The play opened last night and runs until December 2.

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