Peter Carey’s first novel, Bliss, won the Miles Franklin Award in 1981, became a feature film four years later, then an opera in 2010. Its excellent pedigree meant it was probably destined for theatrical adaptation. Who better to tackle it than playwright and Belvoir artistic associate Tom Wright, and Malthouse Theatre’s artistic director Matthew Lutton, whose previous collaborations include last year’s outstanding Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man.

Unfortunately, the world premiere of  Bliss, which will continue on to Sydney, is an uneven, sometimes laborious three-hour journey. There are quite a few laughs and a moment of poignancy at the end, but overall this fast-talking satire about identity, morality and mortality struggles, on a sparse set that hinders more than helps the cast.

Bliss, Malthouse Toby Truslove and Anna Samson in Malthouse Theatre’s Bliss. Photo © Pia Johnson

Set in an Australian city in the 1980s, Carey’s story is centred on successful adman Harry Joy, who is revived after a heart attack only to realise his life is a kind of hell. Cancer is an epidemic, and his clients are complicit. His wife, Bettina, and business partner are having an affair. His communist daughter’s...