Melbourne Theatre Company premiered Sunday, a play inspired by the life of a Melbourne cultural icon: Sunday Reed. She occupies a place in the imagination as a mid-century pants wearing, cigarette smoking, larger-than-life woman with a keen eye for art. She created a bohemian life outside of conventional bounds at her home in Heidelberg (later to become the Heide Museum of Modern Art.)
Sunday was a woman ahead of her time. Though as a woman from the past, much of her history has been remembered through her connection to men. After a failed first marriage, Sunday (an heiress) married John Reed. The two became influential art benefactors and hosted significant Australian artists in their home, including Albert Tucker and Joy Hester. She also cared for and eventually adopted Hester’s son, Sweeney. She is perhaps best known, though, for her years-long affair and influence on painter Sidney Nolan. (A relationship plainly known by her husband, John.)
However, Sunday is a force to be reckoned with in her own right.
Sunday isn’t a factual retelling. In fact, it’s billed as a fantasy. However, there are plenty of real world events and personal touch points on which the drama unfolds to make it feel like we’re peeking into the Reed’s private dining room. (Sidney Myer’s Christmas dinner at the Exhibition Building, Nolan’s World War II conscription, and the Melbourne/Sydney rivalry, to name a few.)
The Reed’s Heidelberg home is part of the Heide Museum. But set designer Anna Cordingley makes no pretense to create an authentic representation. Rather, the drama plays out within a framed stage, with symbolic set pieces such as a bed or a table marking jumps in time and location.
Nikki Shiels playing Sunday is a force; she barely leaves the stage. Kudos to the casting chemistry created by Matt Day as John and Josh McConville as Shiels’ foil Nolan as well.
Playwright Anthony Weigh states he could never make his play “factually loyal.” Though, “it turned out Sunday had a loyalty problem of her own. Sunday was terrifically promiscuous, in love and in art. She was loyal to herself, to beauty, and on occasion to her husband John, but to no one else. It brought her pain, but also made it possible for her to live the kind of life unthinkable for most women of her age and era and to imagine more for others than they could imagine for themselves.”
Sunday runs nearly three hours, with a 20 minute interval. It’s worth every minute. In fact, with a life story as rich as Sunday Reed’s this play could be part of a series. There are still more tales to tell.
Jenny Schmidt is an event adventurer. When she’s not attending live shows, you can find her sampling the latest craft beer or sipping a creative cocktail.
Sunday runs through 21 February at Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank VIC 3006. (Run time approximately 2 hours 55 minutes, including a 20 minute interval.) The venue is accessible.
Book now. Despite the extended season, this world premiere is nearly sold out.