I’ve seen a lot of theatre over the years, have been at great opening nights, talked to some awesome theatremakers, watched some fantastic productions. Sadly I have also experienced the darker side of the theatre world where way too many theatre companies, theatre venues and theatremakers have come and gone.

I  had a new experience at the opening night of Michael Gow’s TOY SYMPHONY at the Loading Dock Theatre. I was sitting in the front row and at one point during the show the the lead actor singled me out with a piercing gaze. An intriguing paradigm; it felt like he was critiquing me as a reviewer as much as I was evaluating his performance.

The scenario to Gow’s play, in brief, is that it is about a hyper sensitive, middle aged gay man, Roland Henning, a  playwright and drama teacher, who is going through something of a middle aged crisis. Clearly there is a strong autobiographical strand to the play.

It is a fascinating play and Gow, as always, writes so, so well. What I love most about TOY SYMPHONY is the way that it weaves across  so many different strands. The play shifts in time between past and present, reality and fantasy. Roland has a special gift, he can produce, bring alive famous people from the past when he needs to which makes him very popular with his school friends but antagonises the very conservative  headmaster. Towards the end, Roland has a nasty kind of existential crisis. The play’s title is a reference to the title of the first play that Roland wrote as a young boy, portentous of his future career.

Rather than a symphony I see the play as more a finely woven tapestry. i particularly enjoyed the play’s non naturalistic elements which allowed the work to breathe freer.

Ad Astra Theatre Company’s revival of Gow’s play represents the first play to be performed in Sydney’s newest, intimate theatre venue, the Loading Dock Theatre which is part of the recently opened Qtopia complex that as well as the theatre includes an extensive art gallery, both of which are a utopia for the celebration of queer culture.

Michelle Carey’s production is first class and engages the audience from the get go. As we take our seats for the show we see the stage is strewn, at various points, with suitcases of different sizes and colours which, as the play unfolds, are symbolic of the great amount of emotional baggage that Roland has accumulated over time which are now completely weighting him down and which he finally has to sort through.

The performances are first rate. Gregory J Wilken gives a powerful performance in the lead role. I couldn’t see ‘the mechanics’ behind the performance, I just saw the fully fleshed character of Roland come alive.

Each member of the cast inhabits their characters, many playing multiple roles. My personal favourite performances were by Wendi Lanham as Roland’s well meaning therapist Nina, Bernadette Pryde as Roland’s very full on teacher Mrs Walkham, in a performance which is both very comical and very touching, and Sam Webb who plays three very divergent characters, those of Steve Gooding, Dr Maybloom and Tom with great skill.

TOY SYMPHONY represents an auspicious start to Sydney’s newest and already very vibrant theatre venue. The production is playing the Loading Dock Theatre  until 27th April 2024.

Production photography Bojan Bozic