If there’s a gulf between England and Australia, the one a land of tea
and manners and the other of “Fosters and vomit,” then the void of
self-identity at the heart of Hannie Rayson’s Hotel Sorrento is
wider and deeper.
The fact that the play is studied on Australia’s school syllabus but
is only now, after 20 years, receiving its UK premiere, points to a
further cultural chasm. “British critics,” says one of the characters,
“can’t conceive that… something of beauty, profundity or passion could
arise from an experience that’s essentially Australian.”
There’s plenty of graceful writing in Rayson’s play, multiple themes
swirling in a naturalistic mist before the homecoming of three sisters
forces skeletons out of cupboards.
The sisters – homely Hilary, slightly tearaway Pippa and ex-pat
Booker Prize-nominated writer Meg – have become separated by more than
just oceans. A wistful ache runs through the piece (the
novel Meg has written is called “Melancholy”) although it’s maybe too
overladen with ideas.
As with the Cock’s recent presentation of Jack Hibberd’s A
Stretch of the Imagination, there’s also an overdose of literary
quotations, from Browning, Shakespeare and Shelley, an unnecessary
flaunting of learnedness perhaps intended to counter national
Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher skilfully steers through the
narrative and draws strong performances from the ensemble. Shelley
Lang’s beautifully observed Pippa and Alex Farrow’s impressive
professional debut as the youth Troy best get the measure of the space,
while Alix Longman’s tortured Meg suffers a little too visibly.
The tiny stage at the Cock Tavern miraculously hosts three scenes
simultaneously on Micka Agosta’s ingeniously simple set, stripped to
the walls and thankfully free of clutter, an object lesson in economy.
There’s a musicality in Rayson’s language and structuring and the
production is well-supported by Nick Jones’s gentle original score.
Spreadbury-Maher proves again his good nose for new or neglected
writing (at least in this hemisphere), which bodes well for the Cock’s
imminent season of six Edward Bond plays.