The way teenagers define their sense of self in reference to their parents is always intriguing. Some admire their parents and subconsciously shape their lives around their expectations. Some deliberately push against those expectations and avoid the mistakes they believe their parents made. Then there are those who believe that they are setting themselves apart from their parents in an act of rebellion, but in that moment of rebellion reveal a deep similarity.
It is this relationship between parent and child that forms much of the basis of Joanna Murray-Smith’s latest work, Fury. Alice (Sarah Peirse) and Patrick (Robert Menzies) are the successful professional couple that everyone would love to be. They are socially aware, award-winners in their fields and have a loving relationship. But when their son Joe (Harry Greenwood) is accused of vandalising a mosque, they’re forced to take a tough look at their parenting, beliefs, relationship and past.
Through this situation Murray-Smith seeks to challenge some of the ideas that underpin the Australian upper-middle class and what she clearly sees as the hypocrisy of those who hold strong left-wing political and social beliefs.
The family drama between Alice, Patrick and Joe that dominates the first half of the play is, for the most part, an absorbing ride. But when the second half delves into the ‘bigger issues’, the play starts to tip towards melodrama and some characters become inconsistent. Despite Geraldine Hakewill
’s best efforts as Rebecca, the young journalist who drags a secret past kicking and screaming out into the open, the character never really has a complete emotional arc and her big revelation lacks the impact it could have.
Murray-Smith has always been a witty and insightful playwright, but in this instance, the dialogue often lacks the finesse you’d expect from a writer of her calibre. Sure, she’s created some fine characters and an intriguing narrative, but the dialogue never feels like it’s driven by the action or the character’s objectives, but rather by Murray-Smith’s desire to explore certain ideas and show how clever she is. Quite simply, you can hear the playwright thinking more than you can hear the characters thinking.
The play benefits from excellent direction by STC Artistic Director Andrew Upton, who elevates the drama onstage by creating strong physical relationships in designer David Fleischer’s simple, sleek set and drawing strong, textured performances, particularly from Peirse and Menzies whose characters unravel beautifully. Yure Covich and Claire Jones as Bob and Annie do their best, but their characters have been painted with such broad strokes as ‘the bogans who don’t like Muslims’.
Harry Greenwood turns in a fine performance as 16-year-old Joe, capturing both the exuberance and the frustrated energy of youth. He follows in his father, Hugo Weaving’s footsteps, but you never feel like you’re watching mini-Hugo, as Greenwood has a vastly different presence and style onstage.
Fury is a play that is working so hard to be about something that it often forgets to be about plot, characters and action. It’s not a bad play, but it’s not a work that will define Joanna Murray-Smith’s legacy in the way that something like the internationally successful Honour, or even the less ambitious, but more skillfully realised Bombshells will.