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“The desert? Seen it, nothing there. The ocean? Seen it, nothing there.”
Ethan is caught in a rut, milling about the country town he calls home, determined to avoid getting an education or a job. He drinks, chases girls, and quietly, desperately dreams of fulfilment. But don’t bother, his boss assures him; the world starts and stops in this little corner of smalltown Australia.
Meanwhile, Meg, a schoolteacher who has lived in the town for years, but is still an outsider at heart, enlists the locals to plan a community festival. Meg has that variety of enthusiastic chipper that is simultaneously grating and endearing (why, of course, the Premier will drive down to cut the ribbon – why wouldn’t he?).
Watching their stories unfold side-by-side, Euphoria is about country life as a purgatory, where the closest thing you’ll find to fulfilment is the satisfaction of a flawlessly executed bake sale.
Essentially double-teaming a one-man show, actors James Smith and Ashton Malcolm careen from character to character with impressive dexterity and physical control. The laughs come from recognising the familiar types – the larrikin mechanic who apprentices Ethan; the nosy shopkeeper always eager for a chat; the school principal from an antique era navigating a strange new world of mandatory sexual harassment training. The pair often play the same characters, but we always circle back to Ethan and Meg.
Even if the cultural cringe sometimes wears a bit thin, playwright Emily Steel’s picture of Australiana is knowing rather than mean-spirited. Meg Wilson’s inventive set design shows you can do a lot with a few timber-decked flats on wheels. Andrew Howard’s string compositions, while gorgeous in their own right, were sometimes used to a syrupy effect.
Euphoria’s strengths are not found in what it says, but how it says it. For a show that really plumbs the depths of human despair, it has a whiff of magic you can’t resist surrendering to (and perhaps a touch of gooeyness as well—cynics are duly warned).
George, 24 [he/him]
Euphoria played at State Theatre Company South Australia from the 22th-26th of August. See details here.