Time Out Melbourne
By Tim Byrne
A troubling look at the limits of empathy in a traumatised world
Can we ever truly suffer together? Will there always be a part of us left fractured and isolated by tragedy, no matter how hard we try to empathise with our fellow victims? These are profoundly unsettling questions, and they course through Louris Van de Geer’s play, unyielding and unresolved.
A triptych – each part picking up a thread from the previous and weaving a ghastly new pattern – it opens on a support group dealing with the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York’s Twin Towers. Leonie White plays a woman who discovers she can give voice to the group’s mute incomprehension, can speak publicly and forcefully about unspeakable things. If only she were telling the truth.
The second part deals with a mother [Emma Hall] and her daughter [Anouk Gleeson-Mead] playing out a dangerous game in a hospital, somewhere between severe hypochondria and Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. This is a suffering both deliberate and entwined, but also frighteningly one-sided.
The final piece deals with an almost parabolic story of dual suicide. One man [Aljin Abella] cajoles another [Syd Brisbane] into digging a grave that will serve for both. Motive is irrelevant, and the relationship between the two men totally theoretical. When the second man asks the first why he even brought him, the answer is telling: “Because you were on the way.” And yet, the first man still needs the second to accompany him to death. When pressed, he admits he couldn’t do it alone.
That these disparate, savage pieces deepen and darken one another is a testament to the skill of the playwright, who has taken an abstract concept and wrung real pathos from it. Credit should also go to Mark Pritchard, whose direction and dramaturgy add real menace without disturbing the delicate balance of naturalism and allegory.
The cast are also uniformly excellent. White’s wide-eyed desperation to be understood, her monstrous empathy, is transfixing, while Hall’s grasping and perverted maternalism is so convincing it’s hard to stomach. Gleeson-Mead and Brisbane are also strong as the ostensible victims.
Romanie Harper’s set is rather ingenious, uncomfortably close in the first act, perfectly calibrated in the second and appropriately expansive in the last. Amelia Lever-Davidson lights it faultlessly. The entire production is indicative of a healthy and rigorous independent sector, and should attract any serious theatregoer.