By Louis Nowra
Director Leah Purcell
Belvoir St Theatre
Begining at the end, the last line of Radiance sends a feeling of hot pain shooting up the sides of my neck. This is the kind of raw emotion felt exclusively at the end of a realistically proposed play which commands highly demanding responses from the audience. The long dark pause which comes when the actors have left the stage is greatly appreciated from audience members requiring a moment to compose themselves. Notwithstanding the artificial pools of water; the stage is left hot with tension.
As a small town family drama, Radiance at first appears to be not much more than that; a tug-of-war between three very different sisters with differing perspectives of one very ignominious mother. We pass quickly from a heart-wrenching opening from Madame Butterfuly’s Un Bel Di which sets a tone of incomparable beauty and looks bent upon forming a destructive comparison for the play to come, to an awkward first scene which reeks with hollow and forced emotion. Mae and Nona are not convincing in their sisterly jesting and misplaced or rather lack thereof grief or relief. The two clunk about through different outfits and past scenarios whilst the ear is left craving for more of Madame and the eye is made curious by the fascinating set design; both of which do nothing to insight audience participation in plot or character development in those first difficult moments.
However the mood changes immediately with Cressy’s first song. The women are bound together by the great harmony which she brings to the piece. Leah Purcell assumes control of the whole scene and impending dramatic comedy which is to follow with unassuming finesse. The final scene with all of its emotional fallout is only possible due to the continuous undercurrent of Purcell’s performance. Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell both kneel to Cressy’s even keel and the drama slots imperceptibly into place.
I was expecting realism with its insensible pragmatism but what unfolds is a hyper-sensitive reflection of a very real and unavoidable world.