Sydney Festival Review: Anthem is a poignant yet entertaining look at Australia’s despair

An all-star collaboration of sorts, Anthem sees acclaimed writers Christos Tsolkas, Patricia Corneleus, Andrew Bovell and Melissa Reeves reunite with composer Irene Vela following their 90s-era play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? A series of stories interweave through the backdrop of Melbourne’s train network, with a range of characters thrust together on public transport in contemporary Australia.

Through these threads we get an insight into a national despair across class and demographics. A cleaner is thrust upon by the now destitute society lady who used to employ her, a south Asian 7-Eleven worker takes the wage-theft issue into his own hands and a successful expat returns home to confront his welfare recipient indigenous siblings. Between scenes, the cast unite for some additional vignettes, along with some astonishing singing by Ruci Kaisila as an on train busker.

While equal parts funny and bleak, the play is kept tonally consistent via Susie Dee’s tight direction and staging alongside a large yet equally wonderful cast. Cohesive and strong as a whole, they can only become more of a well-oiled machine as the run continues. Some clever design by Marg Horwell sees the drama unfold from different perspectives, as if the audience is in the carriage among the action.

Some choices in the play’s final moments may have pushed its themes a little too forcefully, but this is ultimately an poignant story of our present, while also somehow being wonderfully heartfelt and entertaining.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Anthem ran at Sydney Festival from the 15th to the 19th of January, where it was reviewed. The next shows are part of Perth Festival, from the 12th to the 16th of February. For tickets and more details, head HERE.

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