What do you imagine a play that began as a 2022 HSC project might be like?

Chances are, you won’t picture anything quite like Misery Loves Company.

Set in Belfast in 1977, against a background of The Troubles and punk rock, Isabella Reid’s ambitious debut seems like a play from another era.

Michael Yore in Misery Loves Company. Photo © Clare Hawley

We are in the home of the Glynne family, here to pay tribute to Daphne, whose coffin stands on a pair of trestles, her portrait prominently displayed. Father John (Michael Yore) brings us up to speed with some of the details of a colourful life.

Gathered in tribute are her fractious family: Dad George (Mark Langham) and his carer Jasper (Teale Howie); Daphne’s brother Henry (Paul Grabovac) and his two children (Lib Campbell and Clay Crighton), sister Dolores (Linda Nicholls-Gidley), daughter Jackie (Annie Stafford) and niece Niamh (Rachel Seeto).

Daphne’s send-off proves to be anything but dignified, however. In scenes that evoke something of the sectarian chaos of the times, the wake turns chaotic in a 70-minute play so densely active it feels like it’s running at double speed. You’ll find that some focus is required to keep a handle on who’s who and what’s what (though Father John handily steps in at times to clarify).

Director Mathew Lee (who staged the 2023 indie highlight Dumb Kids here) has assembled a strong ensemble cast that is also involved in lots of music-making (under the eye of Clare Hennessy), which is one of the production’s outstanding features.

Lincoln Elliot and Clay Crichton in Misery Loves Company. Photo © Clare Hawley

Made on the KXT traverse stage, Ruby Jenkins’ wallpapered design evokes period and place sharply and Tyler Fitzpatrick’s lighting moves smoothly with the play’s shifting moods – which range from the melancholic to the farcical.

Misery Loves Company can feel a touch ragged at times. Some moments are blurred, others trampled, but even with that, this is clearly a remarkable and unusual debut play.

Misery Loves Company plays at KXT Broadway, Sydney until 18 May.

Take the Limelight Reader Survey and you could win an Australian Digital Concert Hall gift voucher