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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Sunday (MTC) at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner - 2 hours 55 minutes, including a 20-minute interval

Sunday Reed is a firecracker.

She is a woman unlike any other.

She is instinctive … a free spirit.

Although she has some mental health issues, Sunday doesn’t hold back.

She says what she thinks and feels.

Married to John, he surprises her when – on a whim – he purchases a farm in Heidelberg (in Melbourne’s northeast) in the mid 1930s.

She is far from certain about the move, but the pair proceeds to make a go of it.

And then, into their lives steps promising, but struggling artist Sidney Nolan.

Photos by Pia Johnson

With a fine eye for detail, Sunday nurtures his natural skill (she paints herself – pun intended – as his muse … and more), as the three form a less than conventional relationship.

But trouble is in the wind.

Writer Anthony Weigh has taken a kernel of truth and used his fertile imagination to create a masterful and compelling work.

So it is that Nikki Shiels brings to life arts patron Sunday Reed in this world premiere theatrical fantasy inspired by the stories and myths surrounding Sunday and John.

The pair founded Heide Museum of Modern Art and nurtured a circle of artists, including Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester.

As is explained by Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan in the double biography Modern Love, which explores the unconventional marriage of modernist pioneers the Reeds, John and Sunday met in 1930.

They shared a passion for art, literature, nature and innovation. According to the biographers, John came from an affluent grazing family in Tasmania, while Sunday was an heiress born into the Baillieu dynasty.

Sunday, the play, takes us back to 1930, but also forward to the end of WWII and beyond in showcasing the highs and lows of the interrelationship between the Reeds and Nolan (he is called by his surname).

Nikki Shiels is extraordinary as Sunday. Hers is a rich, textually dense characterisation, that continues her bravura showings.

She excelled in MTC’s Girls & Boys and The Picture of Dorian Gray last year.

Her ability to absorb complex texts and deliver heartfelt performances is nothing short of remarkable. It is a privilege to see her in action.

Josh McConville delivers a layered showing as Nolan. As the latter gains confidence, he transitions his character from apologetic to assured.

Matt Day presents John as understanding, tolerant and loving, a man who does all he can to satisfy Sunday’s needs … and his own. A monologue at the start of the second act is among the many highlights of the play.

Ratidzo Mambo, as Joy Hester, Sunday’s friend and an accomplished artist in her own right and Joshua Tighe as her son Sweeney complete the on-stage talent.

Artist Albert Tucker is also referenced.

Anthony Weigh brings heightened passion and drama to the bohemian lifestyle of the founding members of modern Australian art.

Sunday is beautifully staged, with dates and locations projected onto an oblong screen in the background and the walls of the set opening to reveal different rooms. Anna Cordingley is responsible.

The soundscape is also noteworthy, with Jethro Woodward the composer and sound designer.

Director Sarah Goodes triumphs in the two hour 55 minutes offering, which includes a 20-minute interval.

Sunday is absorbing theatre, in which Nikki Shiels is utterly captivating, drawing out raw emotion.

It is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 18th February, 2023.


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