After braving the cold of an autumnal London evening, it was a warming surprise to enter the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs for the press night performance of Meredith Oakes's Scenes From The Back Of Beyond, and hear the soothing sounds of summer insects. Kathryn Merritt was there.
Oakes's family drama is set in Sydney in 1959, when Australia was at the dawn of a new era. The formal construction of the Sydney Opera House had begun and technology was advancing at a rapid pace. New suburbs were springing up everywhere and it is in one of these that Bill (Martin Turner), his wife Helen (Penny Downie) and their 15-year-old daughter Jasmine (Samantha Losey, in her stage debut) live. Bill and Helen are lapsed Communists and unhappily stuck in their marriage. But Bill is hopeful about the future – "the real future, the one we’ve all been waiting for" – a future dominated by scientific reasoning and advancement.
Bill sees some of this bright future in his neighbour David (Daniel Lapaine), an atomic scientist who has been thrown out of his house by his wife Mary after she discovered he was cheating on her. When David comes to collect his 10-year-old son Guy (Luke Bromley) for the day, Bill invites him to dinner, much to Helen's dismay. When David is caught in a rather compromising position with Jasmine, Bill and Helen's world is shaken. While Helen reacts emotionally, Bill takes a more intellectual approach to the problem.
As with any family dramas, the solutions are never simple, and the future of all the characters hangs in the balance, illustrated by David's scientific observation that "everything we perceive as solid…is slowly melting down". He may be talking about walls, window frames and whisky glasses, but the real meaning is inherently clear.
The intimacy of the theatre and sparseness of the brick patio set also provide the perfect backdrop for the confrontations and intimate discussions between the characters. The play may be set in the back of beyond, but the first night audience was privileged to be a part of the scenery.
Scenes From The Back Of Beyond runs until 23 November.