Truth, beauty and a picture of you

Neil Gooding Productions with Hayes Theatre Co

Hayes Theatre Co, Sydney, May 14

STEWIE was a mid-level musician in a low-level band, according to Anton. Anton was also in the band, which means he’s paying Stewie a compliment of sorts: the guy was an okay musician. Stewie is dead now, Anton is going to seed, the other band member, Charlie, is going to hell via the pokies and Stewie’s now-adult son has turned up from Taree trying to fill a gap in his life.

Ian Stenlake, Toby Francis and Scott Irwin. Photo: Noni Carroll

Ian Stenlake, Toby Francis and Scott Irwin. Photo: Noni Carroll

You couldn’t call it an original idea but Truth, beauty and a picture of you dangles possibilities. Male friendship, disappointment and loss will be explored in the pungent context of a pub band of limited success and there’s a huge plus: Truth, beauty is based around exceptionally beautiful songs written by Tim Freedman, he of The Whitlams.

So what went wrong?

As so often with a new musical we must look to the book, the spine of narrative that gives a show shape, texture, direction and purpose. Truth, beauty’s book, credited to Alex Broun and Freedman, is a mighty thin affair that skitters from song to song via cliché and dialogue of often painful obviousness.

It fails to establish what was supposedly a deep connection between the three band mates – there are a couple of flashbacks to the early 1990s – while noodling around rather tiresomely with young newcomer Tom and a girl who picks him up in Sydney’s Newtown. Ross Chisari and Erica Lovell do their best to animate stale material and are terrific singers but this thread isn’t interesting. Tom is a device, the catalyst for an unsurprising revelation.

Toby Francis emerges every now and again as Stewie, plays a few other characters and is not well used but Ian Stenlake (Anton) and Scott Irwin (Charlie) do heroic work to transcend the plot’s limitations. They are very fine, as is designer James Browne’s evocation of a grungy pub in a raffish place.

The big drawcard of course is the songs Freedman wrote or co-wrote. To hear, among others, Been Away Too Long, Beauty in Me, I will Not Go Quietly and No Aphrodisiac performed so passionately by the cast and Andrew Worboys’s terrific band is to understand perfectly why Broun wanted to build a musical around them. Unfortunately there’s still a long way to go.

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