Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sunday, written by Anthony Weigh, directed by Sarah Goodes
Between the bakeries and the butchers, the primary schools and the parks, nestled in the heart of Melbourne’s northeast is a cultural hub as inconspicuous in appearance as it is brimming with artistic importance. Named after the suburb of Heidelberg in which it borders from its home in Bulleen, Heide Museum of Modern Art is a gallery space and museum with a history as rich as the patrons in which wrote its first chapters.
Stretching across six and a half hectares of parkland, Heide began as the home to art patrons John and Sunday Reed in the bohemian Melbourne of 1934. From home to artist community to museum, the evolution of Heide’s walls has unfurled alongside the city in which it lives alongside, a city as impressionistic on the museum as it was on the artists in which inhabited it. It is the story of Heide and the city of Melbourne that bares its home, and the story of the artists of the early twentieth century and the bohemian lives they dared led, and the story of John and Sunday Reed and the home they built for this city and these artists, that Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sunday tasks itself with envisaging. But ultimately, and albeit most importantly, it is the story of Sunday Reed herself that is reimagined for the stage in this exploration of a woman who was not just muse but mentor to the artists whose work proliferated the twentieth century art world.
A person of utmost complexity and nuance, the real Sunday Reed would be an impossible portrayal to condense into any one depiction. While some have tried, such as Kendrah Morgan’s renowned biography of the lives of John and Sunday Reed titled Modern Love, Sarah Goodes and Anthony Weigh’s play Sunday doesn’t hesitate to make clear that the story told in the almost three-hour performance is one of ultimate fantasy. But while Sunday combines myth and legend with fact and truth, the underlying thread throughout that pulls the tableau of imagery and memory together is the honesty of Sunday’s character. A trailblazer, a pioneer, a catalyst to a culture that preferred women to be seen but never to be heard; Sunday is made up of all the things our twenty-first century vocabulary loves to label women as – all the things that the real Sunday herself probably couldn’t stand being called.
Because while the Sunday we see in the play is so obviously a feminist hero, the story and the characterisation, and hence the exploration of our protagonist, never stops there. A person of complexity only warrants a complex exploration – an interrogation into what it means to be a woman existing in the art world (a woman existing in the world, even) in the early twentieth century that reaches beyond neat categories of simplified progressive heroines.
The real Sunday Reed may have existed in a time that almost a century of political and social progression may all too easily forget in the past of a Melbourne a lot of us wouldn’t recognise, but still her memory lives on. Sunday lives on in Sunday, in the titular character played by the phenomenal Nikki Shiels, in the ongoing prominence of Heide, and in an art scene that was forever changed by this eccentric, electrifying character. A character like a blazing comet in the sky: rare, magnetic, show-stealing. But blink, and you’ll miss it, so get tickets now.