MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘Grand Horizons’ puts imperfect marriage in the spotlight

By Gill Canning

<em>Photography by Prudence Upton</em>
Photography by Prudence Upton
John Bell is Australian acting royalty and it is a delight to see him on stage again, portraying 80-year-old Bill French, an ornery ex-pharmacist who has moved into a retirement home with his wife, Nancy (Linda Cropper).

The opening scene begins with Bill and Nancy performing a dance of domestic drudgery together as they set the dining table in humorous tandem and begin to eat a meal, obviously a repeat of thousands that have gone before. After a short period of silent chewing, Nancy says, “I think I’d like a divorce.” “Alright,” says Bill. The stage is set for a fun night.

Bill and Nancy’s grown sons, Ben (Johnny Nasser) and Brian (Guy Simon) are aghast at their parents’ decision and try their darnedest to get them to see sense and change their minds, while Ben’s therapist wife, Jess (Zindzi Okenyo), after failing to get them to physically ‘reconnect’, supports Nancy’s wish for an independent life out from under her husband’s thumb. “I would have just slogged it out,” grumbles Bill. “She brought up this whole divorce thing.”

As the extended family insists on moving in to try to control events, things get progressively more difficult (and funnier) as Bill and Nancy struggle to assert their own wills. The very pregnant Jess soon gets fed up of living with her in-laws which results in tension between her and Ben, while gay drama teacher Brian, who claims to be “the only one here with any emotional intelligence”, brings home a young stud, Tommy (an on-point James Majoos), for a night of passion in his parents’ living room. It does not, predictably, go according to plan, even if Tommy is impressed by Ben’s parents’ actions (“How amazing that your parents are still reaching for happiness at their age!”)

Photography by Prudence Upton

Home truths are shared, long-held secrets are revealed and Bill is discovered to have a ‘bit on the side’ – an ageing hippie named Carla (played to perfection by Vanessa Downing), to whom Nancy is more than happy to bequeath her husband and all his faults.

Grand Horizons is not an earth-shattering piece of theatre (although there is one very shattering moment at the conclusion of Act One). It won’t inspire you to ponder the meaning of life or reveal any profound truths. However, it is a merry evening with plenty of laughs – exploring a marriage that like most, is not perfect, is based on some pretence but also much that is good; and a family that, like most, may love each other but not always like each other. So, do Bill and Nancy stay together? You’ll have to go see Grand Horizons.

Grand Horizons
Sydney Theatre Company
7 June – 3 July, 2021


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