REVIEWER RATING: ★★★.5
Shepherd is Australian playwright Liam Maguire’s second production as both playwright and director. It follows productions of his prior work, Wrath, which played to acclaim in both Sydney and Melbourne. His next play, Animus, will be presented at Kings Cross Theatre in May.
Presented by Aya Productions and kicking off Belvoir’s 25A Season for 2020, Shepherd finds a small group of people who appear to be overcome by the excruciating angst of their everyday lives and have sought respite at what appears to be a kind of protracted therapy retreat, guided by its unconventional but alluring leader, Anna (Grace Victoria).
One of the retreat attendees is Kate (Rose Riley) who, without a lot of originality, is looking for happiness. Her relationship with ex-boyfriend, Nick (Jacob Warner), ended recently and he’s followed Kate because he’s decided he wants to try things again. Others in this cultish group are Lewis (Mark Paguio), a man so distressed about his looks that he’s taken to wearing a brown paper bag over his head; Elsa (Cece Peters), a young woman convinced she is destined for megastardom; and Mark (Adam Sollis), who has nothing to say but appears to be, at the very least, impassive.
As therapist and guru, Anna provides assurances to attendees of a path to happiness, a chance to be rid of their anxiety and to be everything they want to be. She’s just a little vague on the details as to how that outcome will eventuate.
Maguire’s Shepherd is a smartly written absurdist piece that questions whether the escape from the real world these characters crave is to paradise or something far from it. The text is very funny, poking fun at the frenetic times we live in and how ridiculous people can be in pursuit of a heightened state of being. It’s creative and it’s entertaining.
The production is also well served by a first-rate cast, giving their characters definition and each making their own mark on the production. Victoria’s Anna is excellent, perfectly capturing the magnetism/pretentiousness of a cult-like figure and the schematic concepts that they tend to promote. Riley’s depiction of Kate is also strong, allowing us to see a character second-guessing herself while outwardly buying in entirely to Anna’s ideology. Peters (who was an asset to both seasons of Red Line Productions’ The Wolves) gives a memorable performance as the budding star, while Warner convinces as the desperate ex-cum-cynic. Paguio’s portrayal of the self-conscious aspiring musician Lewis is a success, while Sollis, as the man of few words, does a great deal with the little he’s given.
Scenes play out on a small circular platform (by production designer Ella Butler) and it’s suggestive of the relentless pursuit of self fulfilment the characters here apparently desire. Martin Kinnane’s lighting is simple but impactful, while Sam Maguire’s use of sound adds significantly to mood and satirises the kind of event that lies at the centre of the play.
Shepherd offers an imaginative and stimulating satircal experience that generates a tension all its own. The anxious need to be seen, to be heard comes at a cost. Sometimes, life in the slow lane seems just fine.
SHEPHERD – SEASON DETAILS
VENUE: Belvoir St Theatre, Downstairs Theatre (25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills)
DATES: Playing now until Mar 7 2020
TICKETS ONLY $25: belvoir.com.au/25a/shepherd/