Wild Surmise

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Almost a year since the death of Australian writer and poet Dorothy Porter comes this beautifully realised adaptation by Jane Montgomery Griffiths of Porter’s verse novel Wild Surmise.

The play is a portrait of a marriage on the blink of implosion. Alex (played by Griffiths herself) is an astronomer looking for life on Europa, a moon revolving around Jupiter. With the same scholarly single-mindedness, Alex also pursues an infatuation with an American researcher named Phoebe, who appears to be as icy as Jupiter’s moon.

Meanwhile, Alex’s husband, Daniel (Humphrey Bower), a lecturer on Romantic Poetry, laments the many ways in which life as he knows it is ending: his students these days are ‘shit-headed’, his boss is a bore, there’s always traffic on Punt Road. And now, two far more grave discoveries: a diagnosis of cancer and his wife’s infidelity.

Griffiths’s script remains close to its verse novel source, with Alex and Daniel never really engaging in dialogue but rather taking turns to narrate events as they unfold. Here, form perfectly complements content, since this lack of direct communication informs the couple’s undoing.

Likewise, Anna Tregloan’s set designs offers further evidence of estrangement. The stage is divided by a glass partition papered with book leaves – a visual nod to the text’s printed beginnings, but also suggestive of the scholarly obsessions that have lead Alex and Daniel into separate universes.

Porter’s poetry, dramatised by two exquisite performances, is near-transcendent, sending even the most prosaic details – Daniel’s love of coffee, the blunt platitudes of Phoebe as recalled by Alex – into orbit with the same force as her vivid imagery of love, death, and astronomy.

Director Marion Potts negotiates this rich material with skill; the entire production, in fact, has worked hard to make Wild Surmise as engaging to see performed as it might be to read. An elegy to a marriage, to a husband, to a failed affair, this production is also a loving tribute to the work of an insightful, original writer.

Wild Surmise is playing at Malthouse Theatre, until December 1.
For more information and tickets visit: malthousetheatre.com.au

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