By Mary Anne Butler. Lab Kelpie. fortyfivedownstairs. 15 -25 November 2018.

Broken plays with time, coincidence and consequence.  Events play out of chronological sequence enabling juxtapositions of their emotions.  The audience must hold the pieces in mind – until they come together in a moving and satisfying whole. 

An horrific car accident isn’t a plot point: it’s dramatised in all its physicality, terror and pain.  An abortion isn’t a plot point; it too is dramatised, heightened by the graphic language that describes it, in its agony and regret. 

Ash (Naomi Rukavina) drives with her dog Lucky on a remote and crumbling Northern Territory road.  Her car crashes off the road and rolls over and over and over…  Mia (Sophie Ross), alone in a house somewhere outside a town, induces an abortion and changes her mind too late.  Ham (Lyall Brooks) sees the beam of Ash’s wrecked car headlight and stops…  Telling any more story than that would spoil the impact of the developing and very credible revelations that follow.   And all this plays out on a totally empty stage.

Susie Dee has a particular ability for locating bodies in space and, in this production of Mary Anne Butler’s finely-honed play, that ability is much in evidence.  With designer Marg Horwell and lighting designer Andy Turner, she empties the playing space.  No props.  Actions are located in space – actions at times untethered from the text that describes them.  A wall of smash-punctured timber runs down one side of the space and the eerie use of that is startling and then disturbing.  Ms Horwell also adds another layer: she dresses the women in the colours of the ‘red centre’ earth and stone while Ham is in uniform blue.  Ian Moorhead’s sound is restrained and subtle when it could have been, given the story, so easily otherwise.  

Another of Ms Dee’s abilities is to elicit forceful and very physical performances from her cast.  Here, they serve her and the text well.  Naomi Rukavina has a warm, earthy quality; she keeps us with her when her character is, after all, immobilised, very badly injured and helpless throughout - until the ending and her heartbreaking discovery.  Sophie Ross’ Mia is alone through her ordeal and she makes us feel that aloneness keenly – and then her shame and despair.  And Lyall Brooks’ Ham has a solid, totally believable Australian bloke quality, a man who is unexpectedly pierced to the heart by what he experiences and by his obligations.

There are very minor problems with this powerful piece.  At a very few times the heightened monologues (the characters do not interact directly) leave us behind with a metaphor too far or an unexpected banality.  The vast empty space can mean an echo or text lost when an actor is turned away from us.  But this essentially simple story gains in significance and strength via the way Ms Butler and Ms Dee orchestrate its telling, and in the truth of the performances.

Michael Brindley

Photographer: Jodie Hutchinson

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