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In Real Life theatre review (Eternity Playhouse, Sydney)

What happens when the technology we create goes beyond our established templates for the world?

Can we recreate what we now know as love, connection and human interaction digitally? Is it possible to bridge the gap between the digital world and ‘real life’; and is the digital era we are hurtling towards threatening to change all that we once considered ‘real life? Are we ever truly alone, or indeed are we ever truly connected?

These are some of the dilemmas that Julian Larmach’s latest play, a brilliant psychological thriller, explores. It’s set in a remote, luxurious beach house; an all white, glass and hard lines designed by Georgia Hopkins and superbly lit by Sian James-Holland.

The house is owned by Teresa (Anni Finsterer), a CEO entrepreneur, who has created ‘the drum’; the latest technological device that has the power to hold personal info that surpasses any other and that has put her in a dizzying and powerful position of a ruler/god.

Her daughter Eva, (Elizabeth Nabben), is disdainful of the drum device and its claim to truly connect us to each other whilst she yearns for a deeper connection with her mother. Eschewing all the power and success she will one day inherit, Eva disappears leaving Teresa to confront her pain, guilt and grief.

The play is directed by Luke Rogers who beautifully crafts its elements of dark and light, the absurd and the heartfelt, with sensitivity and dynamism.

The chemistry between Finsterer and Nabben is palpable as they shift between mother and daughter, enemies and friends– until you realise that Theresa’s ultimate connection is with her drum, chillingly close to our own dependence on our devices.

Anni Finsterer as Teresa is dry, laconic, abrupt and as shallow as she is vulnerable. Finsterer is an actor who is not afraid to explore the darkness of a character, and in her boldness and lack of ego we see the full range of Theresa; a woman who having neglected a true connection with her daughter tries to recreate the lost opportunity through technology. There is delight her wry humour and strength, and in her self-focus as we recognise ourselves. Finsterer then crafts a performance that elicits great audience empathy as she realises what she cannot recapture.

Elizabeth Nabben is intelligent and subtle as she morphs between six different characters. We feel for her Eva, then are horrified by the cut-throat bouncy business woman Sarah, and then are drawn in to her tentative and complex Joanna. Her mesmerising robot (yes, robot) version of Eva is absolutely present yet terrifyingly blank and this scene with Finsterer is an absolute highlight both of Lanarch’s writing as he strips back his sometimes overly verbose dialogue, and finds the emotional heart. Rogers has finessed what is unsaid in a scene that will stay with audiences for a long time.

This is a thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining show.

In Real Life is at the Darlinghurst Theatre until October 15

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