‘Grand Horizons’ // PIP Theatre

‘Grand Horizons’ was succulent.

The abrupt decision to end a 50-year marriage and the resulting emotional turmoil experienced by Bill and Nancy’s adult sons doesn’t sound like a funny premise for a play, but ‘Grand Horizons’ had the audience laughing from the opening line to the final bows.

With relatable characters and a delicious script by Bess Wohl, the production’s 2020 Tony nomination for Best Play was well-earned. The Brisbane version certainly delivered, brought to (a very beige) life in Milton’s PIP Theatre by special arrangement with Music Theatre International (Australasia) on behalf of Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

Many of the seven actors will be recognisable to audiences for their work in various television and film series; their professional-level talent was on full display in this story of love, marriage, ageism, and the pursuit of happiness.

Steven Tandy and (show producer) Deidre Grace as the central couple of Bill and Nancy played off each other perfectly. Their convincing portrayal of a husband and wife going through the motions of a decades-long shared existence, revealing betrayals, then finally expressing the truth of what they want for their lives, was at times agonising, hilarious, and ultimately hopeful.

Brad McMurray as finance-focused, barrister son Ben gave a booming performance, grappling with his impending fatherhood and what having a family will mean for him in light of what he learns of his parents’ relationship.

McMurray contrasted nicely with his sensitive theatre teacher brother Brian, played by a histrionic Cameron Hurry. Hurry earned many of the laughs with his excellent delivery of dialogue, and particularly in his physical actions and reactions to his fellow performers.

Not to be outdone when it came to reactions, Gabby Carbon as Ben’s pregnant wife, Jess, also impressed with her wide-eyed stares and piercing looks to castmates. Carbon’s prop belly wasn’t convincing, but her portrayal of a soon-to-be-new-mum was, as she went from keeping the peace to exploding at the men around her for how they took their mother for granted.

Reagan Warner as Brian’s cheeky late-night hook-up, Tommy, and Lisa Hickey as “floozy” Carla made the most of their brief scenes – the audience loved them, and they had some of the most memorable lines in the show.

Direction by Bronwyn Nayler and assistant director Calum Johnston seemed flawless. The use of silence as a plot device was a compelling way to heighten audience emotion and build suspense, and the blocking choices fully utilised the box-like home of Bill and Nancy where the story unfolded.

The colourless living area interior designed by Genevieve Ganner and Sarah Robertson clearly represented the plain, constricting marriage Nancy strives to escape. Ganner and Robertson’s set and costume design was realistic and subtle, allowing the colourful performances to stand out against the sad backdrop. Lighting design by Laura Charlotte complemented the overall theme and atmosphere.

There were only two potential technical improvements for production manager Amelia Slatter to consider. Those would be total blackouts paired with consistent music volume during scene changes (to avoid the audience watching the cast transition) and reviewing a sudden dimming of the lights during a particularly emotional monologue by Nancy near the end of Act I to avoid distracting from her performance (though this may have been a one-time blip).

In a Q&A session following the show, Nayler said she wanted audiences to “laugh and sympathise” with this story of love and “grey divorce.” And that we did.

‘Grand Horizons’ was succulent as in tender, juicy and tasty. Tender in moments between couples, parents and children, and even unlikely friends; juicy in its sexual re-enactments and role plays; tasty in its delicious dialogue. As hilarious as it is thought-provoking, the play leaves audiences to consider their expectations of marriage, parenthood, and happiness.

‘Grand Horizons’ performs until Saturday, 27 May at PIP Theatre in Milton. For more information visit PIP Theatre’s website.

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