Until December 8
Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company
Tickets $54-$73 (limited tickets available)
Bookings 9250 1777
THE Eagles, the Monkees, the Sex Pistols, the Police . . . There’s no shortage of "getting the band back together" stories and all of them follow roughly the same trajectory: band implodes at the height of its fame; members disperse to create "normal" lives for themselves despite nagging feelings that there’s more to accomplish; band awkwardly buries hatchet and hits the road. Punters queue-up to pay "heritage rock" prices while the critics jeer.
This, seemingly, is the path marked out for Riflemind, a once-edgy rock outfit that found fame in the early 1990s before angsty frontman John (Hugo Weaving) pulled the pin. Edging back from the abyss, he now lives a clean, sober and disconcertingly quiet life in the English countryside with partner Lynn (Susan Prior). He hasn’t touched a bottle or a needle in years. Or for that matter, a guitar.
Now, after 15 years, a reunion tour is on the cards. Band manager Sam (Jeremy Sims), John’s brother Phil (Marton Csokas), long-time band moll Cindy (Susie Porter), drummer Moon (Steve Rodgers) and young American guitarist, Lee (Ewen Leslie), fly in by helicopter to see if the old spark can be rekindled. All arrive with plenty of baggage.
So far, so Spinal Tap, but writer Andrew Upton isn’t concerned with the nuts and bolts of making music or the absurdities of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Instead, Riflemind focuses on the personal: the nagging lure of addiction; the neediness that celebrity confers on its victims; what to keep and what to let go.
Crafted from simple language, Upton’s script is painstakingly arranged. Content and form are intimately linked. Sentences are left unfinished and thoughts are left hanging in the air as the characters grope their way towards understanding. People open their mouths before they think. They talk but words fail them.
Richard Roberts’s deliberately characterless, rehab-friendly set adds to the overall bleakness as does a grinding sound design by Max Lyandvert that features Pete Black and Ray Ahn from punk legends the Hard-Ons. It offers a tantalising hint of what Riflemind might have sounded like in their glory days.
Paying fastidious attention to Upton’s halting rhythms, director Philip Seymour Hoffman draws out uniformly fine performances from his high-profile cast. Hugo Weaving is charismatic and gruffly commanding as John, an ideal choice to play a man who could have led his bandmates over a cliff had he so desired. Jeremy Sims’s Cockneyfied Sam isn’t entirely convincing but together with Steve Rodgers, who very capably animates every drummer cliche in the book, his presence creates some welcome warmth and humour. Susie Porter’s hard-bitten sexiness is perfectly pitched and Marton Csokas delivers a fluid and compelling portrait of strung-out sibling rivalry. Susan Prior has the most difficult journey to complete and she’s extremely effective throughout, particularly as Lynn embarks on a rapturous embrace of her long-repressed demons. With that, Riflemind ends on an ambiguous note, one that promises devastation and release.