Playing with illusions and social class

Playhouse Theatre
Thursday, November 10


Wonderful takes us back to the late 1920s. Silent films are on the way out, the influence of Freud is everywhere, and it’s just possible to believe that a bright future lies ahead.

In a series of short scenes, Hermione lounges in her wicker chair, looking out through the French doors to the fountain beyond, fiddling with her pearls and downing cocktails poured by Roberts, the butler.

"I don’t understand why everything has to be such a drama," she says. But this is a drama, and it’s up to the audience to ponder the nature of that drama. Is the audience the audience, or a fountain? Are we to understand that an aristocrat and her butler, clearly attracted to each other, spend their days sharing confidences and fantasies, or is something else involved?

Dunedin writer Richard Huber’s script (he also directs) very cleverly blurs distinctions between reality and possibility, and shifts and retracts social class distinctions.

Sarah Barham, as Hermione, and Blaise Barham, as Roberts, rise admirably to the challenge of almost two hours of demanding stage presence.

Great lighting is provided by Meko Ng. On a plain black stage, props are limited to the chair and a drinks trolley.

While the bareness contributes to the uncertainty about what is real and what is not, and is likely influenced by the intention to make Wonderful a touring show, a more developed set would add visual interest.

Intriguing and sometimes puzzling, rich in literary allusions, actress-and-bishop jokes and pathos, Wonderful doesn’t quite have the sparkle of Glorious, its 2009 predecessor. But it provides a fascinating contrast between the terrible, talky boredom of the rich and the complex inner life of a servant who, despite his repeated assertion that "It’s not for me to say," turns out to have a great deal to say.