ANTHEM @ State Theatre Centre gets 9.5/10

@ State Theatre Centre
Wednesday, February 12, 2020


Written by Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? dreamteam Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas, and Irene Vela, this follow up, according to Bovell, seeks to do the same thing as the original. Which is, to test the political temperature of the nation contemporarily. The result is simply magnificent. Anthem is a phenomenal work, expertly designed, directed, and staged, beautifully brought to life in performance by an outstanding, captivating ensemble.

The stage evoked a public transport terminal that was at different times an airport and a train station, allusive enough to be exactly that anywhere in the world. Designer Marg Howell and everyone else involved in the design and building did a spectacular job of creating a practical set that the performers themselves could rejig between scenes, working together efficiently to do so in a way that really added to the seamless ensemble work of the performance.

The actors were adept enough at this that it removed that awkwardness which sometimes takes the audience out of their suspension of disbelief during a performance when clunky set changes have to be made in between scenes. The way the set was designed, sometimes you were in a completely different space, and other times, you were able to witness the same scene but from different angles, very intelligently done. Lighting designer Paul Jackson and his associate Trent Barclay added the finishing touch with effective and cleverly placed fluorescent lighting to perfectly capture that stark, impersonal feeling of a public transport terminal.

From the opening scene it became immediately clear that the script for Anthem was going to be fast-paced, with precise back-and-forth between characters and impeccable timing in the dialogue. It’s hard to pick standouts in this glittering cast where everyone played multiple characters – each an archetype in our society today – with sincerity and honesty, each nailing their particular archetype in every scene.

However, Thuso Lekwape and Eryn Jean Norvill’s overall performance deserve special mention, and the chemistry between Amanda Ma and Maria Mercedes in their scenes was both on point and gut-wrenching. Ruci Kaisila’s ever-presence, though quiet most of the time, added a striking, thought-provoking element to the narrative, and her singing tugged at the heartstrings of everyone present.

The stage directions of Andrew Bovell are immediately evident to anyone familiar with his work, with ensemble work where the action by each performer, particularly in the big, whole-group scenes, hits such careful timing that it builds up the anticipation to the climax of the scenes incredibly effectively. The performers worked together in a smooth flow, hitting their beats precisely, so well choreographed and rehearsed that in performance it comes across almost like a dance at times. Movement consultant Natalie Cursio did an amazing job at bringing this script to life, and the term ‘well-oiled machine’ sprung to mind.

The entire Anthem company have done a magnificent job of creating a multilayered piece that demands your rapt attention throughout the two plus hours of its staging, but then also follows you out of the theatre as you mull over the many, many messages within it. At a very important political moment in our nation, works like these show how effective art can be in making one consider the state of things by presenting ideas in such a unique way. The beauty of how this is done in Anthem particularly, is that you get to stand in the shoes of many different kinds of people and get a glimpse into their experience, making you feel true empathy for them. If we’re to survive as a species in this cosmopolitan world of today, this activity is a critical one.

Anthem is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the multitude of relationships between the diverse groups present within Australia today, and the power structures and prejudice in our national discourse that foster the way we interact and organise our society.


Photos by Sarah Walker