The beauty and pain of touch

10 June 2022

Caress/Ache is far from perfect but, as David Zampatti discovers, the quality of the production and performances go a long way to compensating for its shortcomings.

Caress/Ache, WAAPA 3rd Year acting students ·
Roundhouse Theatre, Edith Cowan University, 9 June 2022 ·

The worst thing that can be said about Caress/Ache is that it is like a series of off-cuts from the Joanna Murray-Smith playbook, with her signature trite solutions to predictable situations and her doctor’s waiting room magazine world view.

The best that can be said is that noted playwright Suzie Miller has wrangled a complex, overarching analogy between the physiology of touch and how receptors in our sensory apparatus respond to it, and the broader human condition.

This WA Academy of Performing Arts production of the play falls between the two; it asks us to react emotionally to a series of lugubrious, tenuously connected situations, and understanding that they mirror our body’s response to various physical stimulations.

So, when Dr Mark Anders (Giuseppe D’Allura) holds a baby’s heart in his hands and feels it fail, his guilt and loss of self-possession makes physical contact with his wife Libby (Karina Skala) impossible for him. The stories and poems of her uncle make an Australian girl with Kashmiri heritage, Aarzu (Radhika Mudaliar), decide to travel back to Kashmir and join its fight for independence. Cate (Roxanne Gardiner) begins a phone sex gig under the tutelage of the experienced Belinda (Shontane Farmer) to help support herself and her severely autistic son Adam (Adrian K Sit). 

Karina Skala and Dominic Masterson in an intimate moment in Caress/Ache. Photo: Stephen Heath

Saskia (Skala) confronts Cameron (Dominic Masterson) about his affair with her boss. A distraught mother, Alice (Farmer) travels to Singapore because her son Peter (Sean Halley) is to be executed there. (Miller’s trigger for the play was the 2005 execution in Singapore of the Australian Van Tuong Nguyen, and the cruel refusal by the authorities to let his mother hug him before he was killed.) In Miller’s play, Dr Anders is sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs to Singapore to oversee the hanging for the Australian Government (a stretch at the very least) and fulfils Peter’s last wish.

For all the play’s textual shortcomings, this production is 90 minutes well spent, because of director Sandie Eldridge’s tight control of business, Nicole Denholm’s unobtrusive but instructive set and, especially, the live performance of a beautifully modulated score composed by Jane Stark and Koen Smailes.

The cast are all impressive, with Skala’s shattered, shattering Saskia and Mudaliar’s thoughtful, lucid Aarzu particularly strong.

While Caress/Ache will not be a favourite among the productions over the years by WAAPA’s acting course graduating class, the quality of the young performers and the creative team supporting them contributes to the legacy of this incredible asset of WA’s performing arts life.

Caress/Ache continues until 15 June 2022 

Pictured top: Giuseppe D’Allura and cast in a scene from ‘Caress/Ache’. Photo by Stephen Heath

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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