As the audience files in for this world premiere, what they see on stage is a likely alternative to how they could spend the evening: four people are chatting and drinking rosé around a table in a domestic setting that says comfortable, educated, upper middle class. When the lights go down and the cast set to work in earnest, it’s soon confirmed that Joanna Murray-Smith knows her audience, as both the comedy and drama turn on First World problems.

Nothing shocking, then; indeed much of Three Little Wordsis predictable, but it is thought-provoking, with moments of humour and pathos that make up for its less successful aspects.

Melbourne Theatre Company Three Little Words Kate Atkinson, Katherine Tonkin and Catherine McClements in Melbourne Theatre Company’s  Three Little Words. Photos © Jeff Busby

The people around the table are two pairs of long-term couples: Tess (Catherine McClements), who works in publishing, and her husband, Curtis (Peter Houghton), a teacher, is joined by gallery owner Bonnie (Katherine Tonkin) and her masseuse partner, Annie (Kate Atkinson). They have been friends for many years, so when Tess calmly announces that she and Curtis are splitting, despite still loving,...