Women Drinking Hemlock
Written by: Sacha Acland
Directed by: B Wilson Kilby
Gryphon Theatre, 7th Mar 2023
Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon
I never thought I would see a sitcom presented not on television, but on stage. In Women Drinking Hemlock, writer Sacha Acland executes a theatrical sitcom with ease. Inspired by the title of a lost Greek play, the show follows two rival breweries seeking out their slice of Wellington's nightlife. One is owned by Archie (Nathan Arnott), entrenched in misogyny and toxicity. The other is owned by Maven (Alanah Munn), new to the brewery business, overflowing with optimism and hope.
The show strikes a perfect balance between realism and comedy. Through the expertise of the actors, the action doesn’t feel too slapstick, but nor does it feel too dreary in tone. The hijinks aren’t too ridiculous, and likewise, the heavier moments aren’t too turgid. Even though we only get to meet the characters briefly, it feels we have known them for quite some time.
I find it clever how the set design (Helen Oliver) and lighting design (Teddy O’Neill) clearly differentiate the two breweries. We can see a striking contrast between Archie’s dark and barren brewery and Maven’s, which is more enticing and homely. Not only that, but the show is extremely accessible, providing audio descriptions as well as captions by Alexander Garside throughout the performance. Additionally, touch tours of the set are available.
I feel that an incorporation of music would alleviate the few awkward silences and assist in portraying the emotions of the scenes better. I would also be interested to see the character of Sam (Holly Kennedy) fleshed out a little more, as they feel like the only character to not have a complete story arc. I can certainly see this play being translated into an actual televised sitcom easily.
Women Drinking Hemlock is thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it if you want a night of both laughter and drama that doesn’t sacrifice one for the other.