Breaking points

Three Little Words
Review by Penny Mulvey


Have you ever experienced a deep visceral response to friends’ news that they are breaking up? Perhaps you have seen them as the perfect couple? You cannot imagine them as individuals.

This is the premise of playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s latest offering, Three Little Words, currently showing at the Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sumner Theatre in Melbourne.

Directed by MTC associate director Sarah Goodes, the play ridicules upper-middle-class intellectualism, which can spill over into narcissism.

As two couples gather to celebrate the 20th wedding anniversary of Tess (Catherine McClements) and Curtis (Peter Houghton), Tess announces to Bonnie and Annie that she and Curtis are splitting up.

The play, performed without interval, is at times predictable but provides moments of laughter along with sadness, irritation and poignancy.

One wonders what anyone saw to like about Tess in the first place. She has no concept of others’ feelings but expects everyone to be immediately responsive to her opinions and emotions.

Curtis needs more flesh to his character. Although love and hate are at opposite ends of the same spectrum, he seems to jump quickly from one to the other with no sense of nuance or depth.

Annie (Kate Atkinson) is the only non-university graduate of the four. A masseuse, Annie has felt confident within herself and her relationship with Bonnie (Katherine Tonkin) until their friends break up. Their own turmoil is as central to the play as the poison which leaches out of the separation of Tess and Curtis.

A spontaneous round of applause erupts from the audience when Annie calls out the elitism of the other three and demands that Bonnie depart with her, leaving the dishevelled couple to manage their own self-imposed chaos.

The questions posed by Murray-Smith – What keeps people together? Is our individuality surrendered when we enter into a relationship? Can friendships continue when couples don’t? Is love enough? – are not new, but they are always worth revisiting.

18 April – 27 May
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, Melbourne


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