102: Sweet Phoebe

1 Jul

Michael Gow’s Sweet Phoebe is a light-hearted two-hander about a dog-sitting adventure that goes horribly wrong.

Sweet Phoebe

Helen and Frazer are a successful young couple, working hard as a designer and ad executive respectively in a stereotypically yuppie lifestyle. Even their lovemaking is routine with the same lines signalling their intent each time.

FRAZER: i’d like to kiss you
HELEN: i’d like to take off your tie
FRAZER: can I do this
HELEN: yes
FRAZER: upstairs

As you’ll notice from the above extract, Michael Gow has written Sweet Phoebe without punctuation and with virtually no stage directions. In his introduction he says:

“I’ve never been interested in stage directions. As a writer I believe it is my job to keep the action moving using only the things the characters say (or don’t say; pause and silence can be important parts of the dialogue) and the most significant actions not already made obvious in the dialogue. Everything else is up to the actors and director to discover for themselves. For the same reasons I eradicate everything except the words spoken from a play I’m going to direct.”

This makes the play a more challenging read as you almost need to say the lines aloud to get the meaning and subtext. But once you’re in the groove it’s strangely compelling.

Helen and Frazer reluctantly agree to dogsit a friend’s pampered pooch, Phoebe, and the dog turns their ordered lives upside down. It’s funny watching them go from work obsessed to pooch obsessed as they change their schedules to fit in walks, discover the camaraderie of dog parks and get to know neighbours.

FRAZER: it turned cold while we were out
I was wondering whether she’ll be all right out tonight

HELEN: you think she might get cold

FRAZER: what if we let her sleep inside
just sleep

HELEN: it did turn cold

FRAZER: i’ll bring her in
she can sleep here
you ok with that

HELEN: yes

FRAZER: i’d feel better

After three days of doggy love, Phoebe gets out and disappears. Their lives go into freefall as they put all their priorities on hold in a desperate bid to find her and get her back before their friends arrive home.

Sweet Phoebe is surprising, funny and intriguing. It was also cause for some problems for Gow when an acquaintance thought she recognised her story in the play and wanted to sue him. Which became fodder for a later play, the wonderful Toy Symphony

Publisher: Currency Press

Cast: 1M, 1F

3 Responses to “102: Sweet Phoebe”

  1. Lewis Jones July 1, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I had the joy of directing ‘Sweet Phoebe’ with John Batchelor and Elise Greig way back. It is a very fond memory. It was interesting to see how the audeinces laughter fell away as Helen is swamped by a morass of grief.
    1997? I think.

  2. Binta July 2, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    i love this play

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