With another year before their first program hits the stage, this might indicate what’s in store. Outgoing STC boss Robyn Nevin has given Upton a stellar cast and director Philip Seymour Hoffman.
We begin in the dark, red light streaming from a door. Enter Hugo Weaving as John, barefoot, babbling in an artistic trance. He’s talking sound production and half-singing, "I loved you, when I thought that you were famous". He stalks out, muttering, "Still famous".
The next scene is in the stately English home where John lives with Lynn (Susan Prior).
John is awaiting the rest of his once-great rock band Riflemind. The former frontman has invited his bass-playing older brother Phil (Marton Csokas) and drummer Moon (Steve Rodgers) for a reunion. Riflemind’s old manager Sam (Jeremy Sims) and Phil’s partner and groupie Cindy (Susie Porter) are also on their way, anxious for things to go smoothly.
Smooth is unlikely where John’s involved. From his first prickly interactions with a nervous Lynn, he’s difficult. When Sam, Phil and Cindy arrive, he ignores them.
Next Moon arrives. Rodgers is a highlight as the comical, lovably dopey drummer who can’t wait to play. John hasn’t touched a guitar in three years. Moon’s brought young guitarist Lee (Ewen Leslie), who worships John. Sam badgers Cindy into a quickie despite her being Phil’s partner. The band hit the studio.
The acting is brilliant, and the action is fast, furious and fiercely funny at times as Upton sets his pieces skillfully upon the chess board ready for the second act.
The scene is well set for something big, but after this the story goes into a weird, weightless orbit around themes of love, loyalty, addiction, creativity and wanting to be "there", again at the peak of one’s powers.
The hollow, enigmatic ending is like a mouthful of nothing after a meaty entree. Does Riflemind hit the mark? It won’t blow your head off. Yet there is something insistent about its buried longing that lingers. It’s like being shot from a great distance, not noticing until later when the blood starts flowing.
Wharf 1, Pier 4/5, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. Until December 8, $27-$73, 92501777, sydneytheatre.com.au