The pleasure of privilege and politics

Children of The Sun (QUT Precincts for the Creative Industries Faculty)

QUT, The Loft

April 28 – May 7

There is a moment during Act One of “Children in the Sun” where protagonist, intellectual and amateur scientist Pavel Protasov (Ryan Hodson) is asked how he can work considering the frequency of interruptions. It is an ironic piece of dialogue given the play’s frustratingly frantic early scenes where its 13-strong cast take to the stage often talking atop each other. But this is a dialogue heavy play with lines laden by the weight of its big ideas about man’s contribution to the cosmic narrative. This is the world of the Protasov family, where conversation questions science, art, beauty and morality.

The title refers to the privileged intellectual elite of Russia, epitomised by the detached and idealistic Pavel, who exists with an essential lack of awareness of what is going on around him. He’s more or less oblivious to the advances of the half-crazed widow Melaniya (Bianca Saul) and his best friend and cocky artist Vageen’s (Karl Stuifzand) unrelenting pursuit of his wife Yelana (Chloe Brisk), let alone the cholera epidemic and the starving mob at his gates. In contrast, Pavel’s depressive, patronised sister Liza (a wonderful Jessica Potts), is sickly, nervous, and prophetically aware of impending crisis (The treat of revolt arises from rumours among the lower classes suggesting that Pavel’s chemistry experiments have contaminated the local water supply).

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The darkly comic play was written by Maxim Gorky, while he was briefly imprisoned in Saint Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress during the abortive Russian Revolution in 1905, yet with the extent of intertwine amongst the characters, it has a certain soap opera sensibility turned farce in a series of swift exists and entrances, and its performances rarely miss a beat.

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Hodson anchors the production as Protasov, conveying an appropriate mix of erratic enthusiasm and oblivion to social cues. As his idle artist wife, Brisk gives a layered performance of anger and unlikeability as consequence of her strong will. The standout performance of both subtlety and complexity, however, comes from Jessica Potts as Liza. Humour comes from Annabel Harte as the family’s feisty attendant and the unwilling object of male suitors’ attentions, Feema, and Saul as Melaniya, a lovely, endearingly funny woman with money and little else to offer in attempt to have her infatuation with Pavel realised, delivering delicious declarations like “I didn’t read your books, I licked them, I rubbed them all over my naked body and licked them”.

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The family’s dysfunction is set in an appropriately plush drawing room, fussed over by an initially overplayed Nanny (Ebony Nave), complemented by beautiful period costumes in evocation of its era. This means, however that Andrew Upton’s adaptation of the script’s sprinkling of modern colloquialisms and cursing, while adding humour, jars with its overall sensibility and cohesion.

With its big themes, large cast and mix of drama and comedy, “Children of the Sun” is a difficult play to present to modern audiences, but under Michael Futcher’s direction, QUT’s second year acting students have done an excellent job in bringing it to life, resisting the any tendency towards melodrama. Not only will the contemporary adaptation take you on a pleasurable trip back in time to turn of the century Russia, but it is presented so as to also speak directly to modern audiences, as any classic should.

Photos c/o – Fiona Cullen, https://www.facebook.com/qutgardenstheatre

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