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THEATRE: 12 JULY 2016

By JOHN ROZENTALS

Hurt, by Catherine McKinnon | Directed by Kim Hardwick

White Box Theatre (http://www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au) | Old 505 Theatre (http://old505theatre.com), Newtown, Sydney | Until 23 July

Discovering a new performance space is inevitably exciting, especially when it comes in an unlikely venue and turns out to be so perfectly suitable for the purpose.

So it was a few years ago when I went to see a show at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s new venue, Eternity Playhouse, in the delightfully revamped Burton Street Tabernacle.

And so it was a few days ago when I paid my first visit to the Old 505 Theatre, which is located in a Newtown alleyway, just a hundred metres or so off King St, and reached via a longish climb up a black, iron, external staircase.

The theatre’s basis as an inner-city, artist-run, ‘underground’ performance space goes back more than a decade but the current Eliza St location has only been in use since last September.

And what a classy reno they have done on the place, complete with delightful bar, located in what was formerly the ballroom of the historic Newtown School of Arts.

The performance space itself is small and intimate, and there are definite similarities with the Old Fitz in Woolloomooloo and Griffin’s Stable Theatre at the top of the Cross, but my mind immediately went to what is now known as the Depot Theatre in Marrickville.

My introduction to Old 505 came via the extremely thought-provoking Hurt, part of Catherine McKinnon’s trilogy set in a hospital waiting room and, in the playwright’s own words, asking some questions central to our relationships with others: “What is accident? What is neglect? How does guilt play into community and home?”

Central to Hurt, though never appearing on stage, is four-year-old Hannie, a young girl who has been critically injured when hit by a car while in the company of her seven-year-old brother.

Waiting in hospital for news of Hannie’s condition and treatment are her understandably distraught mother Mel (Meredith Penman) and father Dominic (Ivan Donato), and Alex (Gabrielle Scawthorn), a witness to the accident.

I’ll let slip that Mel’s and Dom’s relationship is tottering over the brink, but to say more than that, or mention the importance of Alex to their relationship, would constitute a spoiler.

All three actors give outstanding performances, but the central, pivotal role of Mel does deserve special attention.

Penman is able to wring out every last drop of emotion from her 80-or-so minutes on stage, and does so in a completely believable way. Simply superb.

If you get the chance, climb those black stairs and see this.

It’s certainly not joyous theatre. Indeed, at times it’s difficult to watch this seemingly simple story that many of us will encounter in some form during our lives.

But it’s beautifully written, directed and acted here and certainly worthy of your attention.

Meredith Penman as Mel ... simply superb.