Sydney Fringe: Atlantis

Margaret Helman
9th Sep 2016

Consummate acting from the cast and the crisp and clear vision of the director only surpasses this compelling Australian play.

We meet Sarah (Madeleine Withington) and Tom (Anthony Talia) on the last leg of their hitchhiking journey from Sydney to Byron Bay where they will take refuge with Sarah's aunt - her mother's sister - Zelda.  They are down on their luck. No jobs, no car and no money. They have both made mistakes; they don't seem to share a practical common sense vision of 'reality'.

The overarching link between them is presented as a trusted and faithful relationship. Their strong feelings for each other are palpable.  As they embark on a hike up the high hill to Zelda's Byron Bay house in the hinterland, Sarah - physically and emotionally exhausted - feels overcome with self-doubt about staying with Zelda. Sarah, the deep thinker, expresses her cynicism about Zelda's values.  Zelda presents herself as a counter-culture person, who has escaped the consumerism and narcissism of city life, but on the other hand, 'abuses' native American cultural practices and makes and sells dream catchers from flouro feathers and makes a packet.  The Nepalese prayer wheels she sells as 'genuine' are another product of her cottage industry activity. Sarah in uncomfortable about Zelda's delusion of close-to-nature and market-place zeal. 

Tom - the supreme optimist becomes impatient with Sarah and expresses his irritation.  He is a quintessential pragmatist and questions what alternatives they have in their lives at present.

Tom is a fascinating character, full of charm and self-belief who could convince himself to do anything and make it work for him. His latest role in Sydney was selling drugs and ultimately this brought him down and will in the end be the catalyst that will lead both of them to an uncertain future.

Tom consumes this character.  It is difficult to take your eyes away from him on stage. Even when the other two characters are centre stage - you look to Tom to question how he is relating to the action on stage.

The direction Kit Bennett brings to this work is carefully crafted, energetic magic. In a black box 4 metres by 4 meters with only a handful of faux dream catchers hanging from above, Bennett has the characters constantly on the move around the space, enhancing the energy of the play And although the script frequently expresses a deep and reflective dialogue of ideas, watching and listening becomes electric.

As the play unfolds in the last scene Tom declares to Sarah that he is 'scum'. The impact is like being held up by a gun at your face. We have come to be smitten by Tom's character - his exuberance; his can-do attitude, his demonstrated affection for Sarah.

The producer Daniela Giorgi's use of music contributes well to the tension of the overall performance.

Paul Gilchrist - mark that name. This is a very fine Australian play that delves deeply into the human condition; how we delude ourselves, how we interpret the behaviour of each other and for a moment it even delves into Atlantis.

Atlantis is on at Kings Cross Theatre for Sydney Fringe for a very limited season until Saturday September 10th. See the Sydney Scoop calendar for details. 

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