Toby Schmitz's Meet-the-Parents comedy goes off at Bondi Pav
First published on . Updated on .
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Young, sneaker-footed actor Luke (Tom Stokes) has sort-of-not-really invited his older actress girlfriend to a civilised family dinner. He's justly terrified. Sarah (Caroline Brazier) arrives with no interest in assuming the role of the polite guest. Her audience for the evening – Luke's parents, Tom and Jackie (Andrew McFarlane and Wendy Strehlow) – are the married, comfortable, well-pressed sort she likely recognises from across the footlights at the Sydney Opera House. Cutlery has barely grazed china before the topic of conversation turns to Luke and Sarah’s vocation, and Sarah launches into another bravura performance.
Much of I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard is playwright Toby Schmitz’s drunkenly passionate – but impeccably calligraphed and articulated – love letter to theatre. Schmitz digs into the subject with vigour and relish. As fine as the texture is, occasionally what he digs up is in-joke rather than insight: lots of opening night laughter reeked of gleeful recognition from audience members who could spot a Barrie Kosky gag a mile away.
But Stoppard picks up post-meal and post-interval, once it stashes the 'issues' in the dishwasher with the dirty plates and gets down to the far grubbier business of human conflict. Ironically it's in Tom's model room that real-sized drama begins to emerge, and Sarah's systematic blitzkrieg of the family begins in earnest. Her sly manipulation of Tom is the first whiff we get that something is that things are going to blow up. Director Leland Kean piles on the Jenga blocks of tension and enmity with the utmost precision.
Strehlow and McFarlane are awkward-family-picture-perfect as the parents who haven't seen any action in years, and – in the imaginary Helpmann category of comic timing – the satisfying thunk of Stokes's deadpan delivery would be right up there. Brazier, quite appropriately, steals the show. In Brazier's eyes – watching intently as she is poured yet another glass – we see Sarah rehearsing her next line internally for maximum impact, and her irony-drenched Blanche Dubois moment is a rightful showstopper. A creation like Sarah could come off as a caricature – it's the genuine fondness in the writing and playing of her that makes her such a delight.
I Want to Sleep with Tom Stoppard is a fine sample of the wit and energy we associate with Schmitz's work as an actor. It's maybe not the kick in the pants that the dinner comedy genre deserved... But it is an enjoyable, loving fondle of said pants.