Stage

Dolores review (Old Fitz Theatre, Sydney)

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The late night shows at the Old Fitz have been a fantastic addition to the line-up ever since Red Line Productions took over the space this year. Artists who have an idea that mightn’t be quite ready or appropriate for the main season (for whatever reason) are able to perform in front of a paying audience late at night. The only catch is that they have to work on the set of current production. Being a space as cosy the Old Fitz, it’s usually a pretty basic, adaptable one.

The current production of Edward Allan Baker’s one-act drama Dolores, starring Kate Box and Janine Watson, is a perfect example of the riches that such a set-up can reveal. It’s not the sort of play that might be programmed otherwise — it’s just 40 minutes and the script isn’t perfect — but it features two brilliant actors flexing their theatrical muscles in a thrilling and unexpected way. There’s no director listed, but the pair don’t really need one given how intelligent and instinctive their work is together.

Dolores (Box) rocks up on her sister Sandra’s (Watson) Rhode Island doorstep with a massive black eye, desperately looking for refuge. Dolores says her husband will kill her if he manages to track her down, but Sandra, who’s living a seemingly calm suburban life, wants nothing to do with her chaotic sister. There’s a bond between the two that Sandra can’t deny, even if it is easier for her to block out Dolores and the hard truths she reveals.

Watson’s Sandra is, at first, a wall that Dolores consistently bumps up against, refusing to engage with her sister’s cry for help. But as she softens, Watson’s performance takes on complexity and her crisis is at least as pronounced as her sister’s.

But as good as Watson is, this feels like a bizarre kind of career-defining moment for Box. Australian audiences should know by now that she’s one of our greatest young actors — a steadying force in every production she appears in. But in Dolores, she gets to play a destabilising force — a person struggling to put the pieces of their life together as they’re consistently stamped down.

Her technique as an actor shines more brightly than ever as she steps away from her ‘type’, building a startlingly complete character and imbuing each moment with clarity and detail. It’s an acting masterclass.

Baker’s text, first performed in 1986, maintains much of its quick wit and the characters are sharply drawn. Box and Watson inject the play with freshness with some sensitive, small touches in the staging, including a brief section where the sisters are brought back to the more level playing field of their childhood, sitting on the floor around a bean bag. The push-and-pull which defines the sisters’ relationship feels a little dated and predictable now, although the observations about domestic violence still hold weight even if they are scenarios we’ve now seen played out plenty of times.

Still, there’s something very special happening on that little stage and Box and Watson completely immerse the audience in the sisters’ world for an all-too-quick 40 minutes.

[box]Dolores is at the Old Fitz Theatre until May 9. Featured image by Rupert Reid[/box]

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