Away, by Michael Gow | Directed by Matthew Lutton

Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) | Sydney Opera House | Until 25 March

Michael Gow’s much revered, loved and studied play, Away, was written and conceived over 30 years ago. It is set in the Australia of the 1960s, a time when the country was on the brink of change.

Politically, the nation was involved in the Vietnam War and it was a traumatic time for many, especially those conscripted to fight.

It was also a time of social change, as the youth of Australia began to voice their feelings, breaking free from the long-held values of their parents.

Gow’s play snapshots these values, using three families all going to the coast, each needing to get away for various reasons.

The parents, Gwen (Heather Mitchell) and Jim (Marco Chiappi), Vic (Julia Davis) and Harry (Wadih Dona), Roy (Glenn Hazeldine) and Coral (Natasha Herbert), collectively play out the faults, eccentricities and pain of characters that are, in their own way, continually pretending; whilst the voice of change is played by Liam Nunan and Naomi Rukavina. It is a most impressive ensemble.

Matthew Lutton’s magical direction develops their story in a reel of stunning images, heightened to an operatic level by J David Franzke’s compelling composition and sound design.

Paul Jacksons’ searing lighting design delivers the blazing Australian sun and the tempestuous conditions that continue to remind us that we are continually at the mercy of the elements.

It is a production that moves at a pace — 100 minutes, no interval — thanks in a large part to Stephanie Lake’s crisp choreography, which also assists to augment many of the surreal images that flicker before us.

The cast is exceptional, but Liam Nunan’s complex portrayal of acceptance as Tom, deserves special mention. Acting as narrator of the play, he conveys his role with a Puckish charm, combined with a contemporary naturalism that grounds the drama.

Also deserving special mention is Heather Mitchell, who plays Gwen with a vicious energy, which by the time the play concludes, is tempered by a gentle comedic rendering. It is a transformation intelligently delivered.

I saw this play 30 years ago in the same venue. It remains an intense narrative that still creates a “sense of unease beneath the shiny surface of Australian life” (Michael Gow). Thumbs up!

Images: James Green.