Review: THOMAS MURRAY AND THE UPSIDE DOWN RIVER Explores One Man's Past As He Seeks To Save His Future

By: Jan. 16, 2016
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Friday 15th January 2016, 7pm, SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross

Reg Cribb's rich, layered play, THOMAS MURRAY AND THE UPSIDE DOWN RIVER comes to life with heart and sensitivity. Director Chris Bendall captures the farmer's world with creativity and symbolism to unearth family secrets and social history in this wonderful season opener for Griffin Independent in conjunction with Stone Soup.

Set and costume designer Dann Barber has transformed the small corner stage of SBW Stables into timber clad sloping hillside that hides a multitude of secrets. With a beige tea stained calico backdrop, the set offers up a few clues as to the location from the hanging tyre swing, rustic ladder and chairs, and the dark river running down the centre of the stage. Lighting designer Alexander Berlage has enhances the mood as it moves between reality, memory and hallucinations. Sound Designer Kingsley Reeve has created a wonderful soundscape that includes Brenden Dodd's original guitar compositions along with other recognizable songs and rural sounds.

The work starts dramatically with Thomas Murray (Grant Cartwright) in sweat stained clothes, contemplating seeking refuge in the riverbed that only holds six inches of water, deciding his response to the question "drown or burn". The calico backdrop is illuminated red, revealing what appears to be a camper's line of equipment suspended across the stage and cello builds to a dramatic orchestral soundscape.

Through the two act play, we see Thomas move between the present and the past as he remembers events that led up to him lying in the boggy riverbed that once supported his farm on the Darling Downs. The memories are presented in a non-linear fashion, introducing his childhood friends Lucy Banfield (Francesca Savige) and William/Billy Brownie (Bjorn Stewart) as they move in and out of his life over the years, with age differences represented both in behaviour and Lucy and Billy's attire whilst Thomas remains the same. Nicholas Papademetriou and Vanessa Downing round out the small cast representing a collection of older characters that feature in Thomas' life.

Cartwright creates a likable Thomas and expresses his emotions and despair with an honesty and truth. We see a dedicated farmer carrying on trying to make a living on the drought stricken land that has been in his family for 5 generations. He expresses the innocence and wonder of youth as he fishes and plays with his friends. He expresses the love and affection for Lucy when they reconnect as adults and then the dejection as Billy returns into their lives and changes everything. There is the searching for truth as he questions Lucy's account of the history of the farm and anger that she is manipulating the truth.

As the more world wizened Lucy, returned from living overseas, Savige presents a cynicism that even though she has returned to the town she grew up in, she always seems to be looking for something better. There is a cunning and cowardice to the grown up Lucy as she seeks to hide truths from Thomas. As the younger, innocent Lucy from their childhood, Savige presents as a tomboy that gradually becomes aware of the boys as more than just playmates.

Stewart gives Aboriginal background Billy a freedom in youth but also an underlying hurt as his friendships are causing him grief at home. Of the three, he captures the carefree innocence of their childhood the best. As an adult, Billy is given a more awkward demeanour as he tries to fit back in when Thomas and Lucy have moved on.

The additional roles are presented as caricatures to a degree to express the impact they have had on Thomas' life and also establish who they are and what they represent quickly. Utilizing different accents and mannerisms, the different characters are easily defined.

THOMAS MURRAY AND THE UPSIDE DOWN RIVER is an important and interesting work that explores the secrets and lies retained for generations along with society's mistreatment and prejudice of the original landowners. It is well executed, retaining a good pace and honesty with a blend of humour and hurt.

Lucy (Francesca Savige) and Thomas Murray (Grant Cartwright) (Photo: Robert Catto)
Lucy (Francesca Savige), Thomas (Grant Cartwright) and Billy (Bjorn Stewart) (Photo: Robert Cartwright)
Billy (Bjorn Stewart) and Lucy (Francesca Savige) (Photo: Robert Catto)

Photos: Roberto Catto


SBW Stables, Kings Cross

13-30 January 2016


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