Review: The Coven on Grey Street
The first thing that grips me as soon as I walk into Circa Two is Lucas Neal’s gorgeous set design for this show – a huge pohutakawa that stretches up and across the entire stage, a white picket fence, and the outside edge of a traditional weatherboard kiwi house. Cicadas chirp (beautiful sound design by Patrick Barnes), and the air feels warm and heavy – though potentially that’s just cause the theatre is packed.
Many, many centuries on since the Weird Sisters predicted Macbeth’s future, they’ve all grown apart and settled down in Waikato. However, tonight, the three are reunited to see Daphne (Helen Moulder) get married to university professor Ted (Peter Hambleton). Sybil (Irene Wood) is dismissive of Daphne’s new man, but clearly still grieving over a lost love of her own, and Fay (Hilary Norris) is worried about the loss of her magic, but is seemingly mostly there for the canapes.
This is one of the sharpest scripts I’ve seen performed in recent memory. Playwright James Cain’s wit and intelligence is out in full force within this work, it is a fantastically funny piece – a bit about familiars leaves me giggling definitely too loudly in my seat – but it is the softer moments where this show truly shines. The Weird Sisters have lived so long and seen so much that the underlying thread of loss within the piece is palpable. Amongst the sisterly bickering and gripes about getting too old, there is a genuine heart within the work that I find very moving, expertly conveyed by our performers.
And what a team they are! Four performers with an incredible breadth and depth of New Zealand acting history between them. All four are a delight to watch on stage; from the genial and kindly Ted (Hambleton), to the guarded Sybil (Wood), deeply in love Daphne (Moulder) and wickedly chaotic Fay (Norris). Excellent casting, and excellent direction all round.
There’s a lot of moving parts to this work, expertly harnessed by director Harriet Prebble. To actively balance the many layers of this play – the current moment, where Daphne and Ted are getting married, but also the weight of the years behind them – could be a challenge, but Prebble’s direction is solid and clear, with some gorgeous stage pictures and great staging.
It is such a joy to see well-written, well-rounded roles for women over a certain age in the theatre space. Once you hit a certain age as a performer, especially as a woman, roles begin to float away like leaves in the wind, leaving often only the crumbled rot of playing someone’s “grandmother” or the dreaded “elderly lady” – with no layers or dimension, just someone who is there to further the narrative of someone younger. The Coven on Grey Street gives these characters the depth they deserve, and does so by clearly and obviously showing that there is no “one true” life experience for someone who is older, just as there is no one true life experience for a character who is young. This is deeply refreshing!!
The Coven on Grey Street is one of the better shows I’ve seen this year, perhaps the best show. I’ll not spoil the second half of the piece for you, but these witches do find their magic again, and it is definitely for the better. I love a show with some practical stage magic, and you’d better believe that comes along for the ride too. I also have a great fear, and a great admiration for something thats dares to say the word “Macbeth” in the theatre as much as this play does.
(A cheeky note before I wrap this review up – you might think “I’m 20, I don’t know Circa that well, I’m not in this show’s demographic,” and to that I say, “I’m 26, and I had a blast. Take the time for an excellent script and players. It’s worth it.”)
Lighting design by Isadora Lao, costume and graphic design by Aimée Sullivan, stage management by Deb McGuire, production by Cassandra Tse and operating by Xanthe Curtain – all deserve a mention, though I couldn’t fit them into the above, this was a super well-oiled production!