Riflemind, by Andrew Upton, The Sydney Theatre Company. Wharf 1, Sydney, until December 8.
ANDREW Upton’s bleakly comic new play, which opened in Sydney last night, is given an oddly domestic, low-key production by Philip Seymour Hoffman, particularly as it is about rock’n’roll dreams. It has superb performances by a star cast, led by Hugo Weaving and Susan Prior as the angst-ridden, drug-haunted couple at its centre.
The tone is bitter and romantic. This is the downside of the rock dream. The scattered members of a once-great band, Riflemind, meet up 10 years later at the English country estate of John, their rich troubled-genius leader (Weaving), and over a weekend try to persuade him to join them on a comeback tour. They find they can still play together, but almost everything else is anguish or regret.
"We’re good when we play and we’re f..king horrible when we don’t" says the much-maligned drummer (Steve Rodgers is terrific). It’s a line that sums up 50 years of rock’n’roll legend.
Each of them is trying to work out a new life in middle age, but none can see that what they need is not to look back but to go on. Upton’s terse, fragmented script, full of bleak phrases and interrupted, half-expressed thoughts, captures their existential confusion. Hoffman’s direction finds its rhythms and flows.
Weaving is superb – brooding, trapped, and trying to break out, or break through. Most of the humour is supplied by Jeremy Sims, funny as the spiv manager, but even he is defeated by the band’s despair.
The romance of the rock legend spirals down in the second half, especially in a confrontation between John and his brother Phil (Marton Csokas) – not a charismatic genius like John but the workhorse behind their old music.
John’s wife (Prior) returns from a drug binge at the end, and there is a standoff between them that might – just might – offer a hope for the future.