Radiance @ Belvoir

Leah Purcell and Miranda Tapsell in Belvoir's revival of Louis Nowra's classic play, RADIANCE
Leah Purcell and Miranda Tapsell in Belvoir’s revival of Louis Nowra’s classic play, RADIANCE

The setting for RADIANCE at Belvoir is created of wood and stone and water. Onto this set arrive three characters. They are sisters. Indigenous and elemental in the way of the wood and the stone and the water that has shaped them in this beach shack in stifling North Queensland.

We meet Mae who has been the carer for a mother with Alzheimer’s. Mother has died and Mae is obviously not coping. Her plan to burn down the house, starting with the squatter’s chair in which her mother died, is thwarted by the arrival of Nona. The youngest daughter has travelled there for the funeral. Also, to see if there will be any money from the sale of the tumbledown hovel.

Neither of them anticipates the arrival of Cressy, world renowned Opera star and older sister. Cressy’s surprising visit from London puts the three women in one place for the first time in too many years to count. It’s not just the impending tropical storm that causes the electricity in the air. Secrets crackle for sharing.

Written by Louis Nowra and originally performed in 1993 at Belvoir, RADIANCE was made into a film in 1998. It is now on the HSC Drama and English reading lists. Belvoir believes the time is right for this revival but to make it live again the production needs a sure hand pull it off the page. For this task they have chosen theatre-elder, Leah Purcell to direct and perform. It works. With the performances, lighting (Damien Cooper), set (Dale Ferguson) and audio (Brendan O’Brien) making the work as radiant as it was 22 years ago.

As Cressy, Purcell’s character resembles the plywood of the set’s brown and textured cabin. Created by pressure and heat, with an ability to bend and flex rather than snap, she is emotionally closed and very still. She often leans against the wall at the very edge of the frame of the stage, brooding and apart. When she does splinter towards the end, it’s impossible to look away.

Weathered and worn by the relentless tides, Shari Sebbens’ Mae conjures up the flat rocks of seashore on the downstage area of the set. Seen as solid and constant by her sisters, Mae is simply stuck. Trapped by responsibilities and by heartbreakingly inappropriate choices, she has neither the courage nor the will to act.

Miranda Tapsell as Nona, exemplifies the water which lies in the rock pools on the stage. Free flowing from man to man she has been endowed, or imprinted, with the dead woman’s love of sex. Apart from her succession of lovers, the undertow of her life has been the desire to find her father. A ‘Black Prince’ who might have been a rodeo rider. Nona exuberantly swirls around the stage and seeps into the hearts of the audience.

Technically, the show is subtle and effective. There might be a storm raging but there are no flashy effects. The sound effects are well sourced and operated at the perfect level under the voices. The lightning is nicely placed and the white light from downstage left that illuminates the darkest moment of the play is perfect. The emotion of Puccini’s Humming Chorus over the finale is also pitch perfect. And, of course, the wood, rock and water of the naturalistic set.

RADIANCE continues at Belvoir until February 8th.