Little Triangle is a brand new Sydney theatre company dedicated to reprising under-performed musicals at a ticket price point that doesn’t cost their audience a week’s rent. As an effort to expand and diversify the musical theatre scene in Sydney, this is a valiant way to open a company. Their second production, Merrily We Roll Along, just closed their season at the Depot Theatre to wide praise and keen look-outs for their next show!
Following the friendship of composer Franklin Shepard, writer Charley Kringas, and writer and critic Mary Flynn backwards through the growth of their friendship and careers from their early twenties on to the cusp of middle-age, Merrily We Roll Along poses the question all artists (and even non-creatives) are familiar with: what does success mean? To start at bitterness, disappointment, and frustration and end with hope, expectation, and anticipation adds a unique bittersweetness and heart-break to a storyline that we’ve seen repeated by artists to other artists and themselves time and time again. It isn’t a new trajectory to start out wanting to change the world and slowly learning that commercial success is a better deal, but to watch Frank, Charley, and Mary travel backwards from their failure to their predictions is a reframing that refreshes and deepens the complexity of the proposition as every choice has already been made, every road already unravelled.
The design of this production is a simple one, using symbolic white doors with the pitstop years of the show painted onto them as a constant reminder that each scene presents an opportunity, or two, to be taken or ignored. The remainder of the set was fleeting, flowing smoothly in and out with each transition and merely hinting at the atmosphere on stage. Most of the clues about time and place were embedded in the music itself or the absolutely wonderful 70s costumes put together by Mitchell Wassink. A colour palette of orange, brown, and navy kept the eye settled but interested and demonstrated a care for detail unexpected in a black box theatre.
Trio friends Frank (Patrick Howard), Charley (Zach Selmes), and Mary (Victoria Zerbst) had a great dynamic on stage; swapping from anger to adoration with a rapidity only old friends can muster. Each brought a different energy with Frank’s solid optimism, Charley’s frenetic ambition, and Mary’s dry wit acting like the glue between them all. However, it was disappointing the marked difference in the way the men’s lives were shaped firstly by their work and then their relationships whereas Mary’s existence often seemed carved by her unrequited love and not her international best selling novel. There was a lot more room to examine Mary’s presence in the trio that wasn’t deemed pertinent to the overall story of a great collaboration lost.
Around the trio are concentric circles of show-biz personalities and hangers-on represented by Frank’s two wives, Beth (Shannen Sarstedt) and Gussie (Matilda Moran), his producer Joe (Richard Woodhouse), and his son (Bowie Parsons). Each appearance acts like a piercing of the grand plans that shield the trio from the rest of the world, and is what ultimately crumbles the collaboration. Around the whole lot hovers “The Blob” of various fans, actors, agents, etc who appear fickle and fleeting, following the flame of fame like moths.
Use of such a large cast is skilfully done in this production without any talent or possibility going to waste. Transitions between scenes and numbers were seamless and maintained a movement of tone and rhythm that meant the stage was always the most interesting thing in the room. It was particularly enjoyable to watch the cast snap into bustling party scenes after sombre and reflective interludes. It demonstrated how focused and invested they were in the energy of each scene and wonderfully nods to their excellent direction.
For such a small company to produce such a clean musical is truly impressive. There’s not much more I can say besides this was very well done and we should all look out for Little Triangle’s next announcement!