Photo by April Saleeba
The SUDS Summer Season gives hopeful production teams half the budget of a semester slot and a lot more room to indulge in their choice of texts. Directors need not bother themselves with how their choices will benefit the society, or the University, or, drawing a very long, very wanky bow, the dramatic climate of Sydney. Still, each Summer Slot is accountable for their choice of text, particularly one as insipid as Pauline Albanese’s The Closed Doors.
Before this review gets too harsh, it’s probably best to point out the good aspects of the production: namely, most things. Performances were solid across the board. Riordan Berry stood out with a sensual performance of Hades, and opposite him, Keshini De Mel delivered a wonderfully composed Persephone, punctuated by some vocal issues. William Cook presented an entertaining if predictable reading of Zeus as the short-tempered Charlie Sheen of Mount Olympus. Jennifer Chen filled the role of Hades’ cupbearer, a kind of nod to the traditional Greek chorus, and did well with what limited material she had to work with.
Production value of the show was relatively high: the set included fresh pomegranates for De Mel to dig into (and those things are expensive). Set changes between Persephone’s cell and the place just “beyond the veil” (where Hades meets his brother for Zeus’ one and only appearance) took an uncomfortably long time: something which could be avoided in future runs with better cast preparation or the use of stage hands. Some elements of the production were formulaic; De Mel and Chen were draped in white, and the male characters, Cook and Berry, were dressed in dark business-casual, which I imagine is the house dress code on Olympus.
But it would be ultimately unfair to blame the production team for the issues in Albanese’s script. Albanese establishes an uneasy relationship between Hades and Persephone (imaginable, as the former has just kidnapped the latter) and then goes to show us a slow-motion tumble into Stockholm Syndrome. The play even tentatively accuses Hades of rape–Persephone labelling him “her ravisher”–and then ends with the suggestion that Persephone has in fact fallen in love with him. The script toddles around ideas about Persephone’s burgeoning sexuality, and her eventual surrender to her hunger for Hades’ pomegranates (this is not a euphemism) suggests that, oh boy, she wanted it all along. There is something more than unsettling about the flippant way the text deals with consent, especially considering we are dealing with a modern adaptation, not something from Sophocles or Aristophanes.
It is not enough for an adaptation to simply replay problematic tropes. And Albanese’s script made an odd choice for a student show, regardless of how well cast or performed the end result was.