Theatre Review: A Man With Five Children, Eternity Playhouse, Sydney (performances until June 26)

Filmmaker Gerry (Jeremy Waters) wants your children. More specifically, he wants to document the lives of five seven-year-old Australians, filming them for one day each year until they are 21. They are Roger (Jemwel Danao), Jessie (Chenoa Deemal), Susannah (Charlotte Hazzard), Zoe (Jody Kennedy) and Cameron (Taylor Wiese). We watch this unfold across two acts, until they turn 35, in fact – eventually incorporating three of their spouses; Annie (Ildiko Susany), Doug (Anthony Taufa) and Theo (Aaron Tsindos).

Apart from being a great story well told, this DTC production is a rare amalgamation of the theatrical and cinematic that is neither gimmicky nor a cheap substitute for a good set. Director Anthony Skuse projects the documentary onto the back wall of Eternity’s expansive stage, looming large over its subjects with un/fulfilled dreams and stolen memories in the possession of an entertained public. Good theatre invades a life; a close-up can colonise the soul.

Photo by Helen White
Photo by Helen White

Of course, what’s perturbing to the character is a joy for the actor, and in turn the audience, especially when the play time-lapses twenty-eight years of emotional development into two and a half hours.

Deemal, for instance, makes Jessie inspiring from her very first lines, but her conviction is something that is planted and grows before our eyes. Hazzard’s Susannah is immediately clever, with an unbridled optimism, so watching her harden is staggering.

Danao and Wiese’s characters grow out of their respective insecurity and racism, but always carry the shadow of the abandoned little boys. The character of Zoe is the self-proclaimed boring one, and the most liberated from the camera, so Kennedy makes her transformation the most impressive.

Susany, Taufa and Tsindos only join the cast around halfway, but their characters feel as fully formed, and they distinguish themselves with impeccable comic timing.

Photo by Helen White
Photo by Helen White

As for Waters, his Gerry is the perfect combination of power, flakiness and vulnerability. Partly, it’s the way he half listens to his subjects, and demands their complete attention without having to ask for it. On a whim, he slips in and out of his roles as friend, father, enemy or lover. Most of all, it’s the way he snaps the viewfinder of the camera, or shoves it back into his bag when they ask him to, please, put it away.

Gerry says he is not himself without his camera. It’s true he wouldn’t be the same, whether he is his better self is debatable. Writer Nick Enright’s masterstroke is establishing the camera as an enchanting narrative device, capable of cursing the so-called five children, and bewitching the man who wields it.

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A Man With Five Children is currently playing at Eternity Playhouse until June 26. For more information and tickets head here.