Life Is Impossible

Life Is Impossible
By Paul Gilchrist. Old 505 Theatre, Sydney. Presented by subtlenuance & Old 505 Freshworks. Director: Paul Gilchrist. 18 - 23 February 2020

Never knowing quite what to expect, one climbs the many external stairs to the Old 505 with something like grim uncertainty. But this is a good’un, a well-directed cast of four, burrowing deep into a story that’s set in 1942 New York. The sparse audience are wrapt as happy-go-lucky Elaine from Australia, becomes ever-deeper involved in the life of Simone, a tortured French philosopher stranded by the war and desperate to get back into the action.

With no setting (three piles of books and an improvised backdrop) and virtually no lighting rig, the actors must carry the action. Aussie Elaine (Elle Harris) is overjoyed by her official stay in New York. She works for an Australian delegation and can type 180 words per minute, but it’s the bright lights, the hustle and bustle and especially the musicals that float her boat. And she’s met Tom (Matt Abotomey), a nice boy in uniform.

The only problem is her flat-share partner, the grim, determined Simone (Chloe Schwank), who sits on the floor amongst her many books of philosophy and reason writing her pleas to get back into the war against Germany. Based on the historical philosopher Simone Weil, she’s 100% focussed on everything that Elaine isn’t. It’s pretty much obsessive-compulsive with her, and Schwank delivers her precisely (and with an excellent French accent, too).

The cast is completed by Cormac Costello as a functionary at the British Embassy to whom Simone (and later Elaine) goes and presents her hand-written application for entrance into Europe. This Englishman in New York is exceptionally well played and just ripe for the kicking.

With song and dance breaking through, and the occasional fantasy sequence, the play is precise in what it has to offer. Paul Gilchrist directs his own work with style and panache.

Frank Hatherley

Images: @sylmariephotography

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