Review by Meredith Fuller OAM Psychologist Author
This is an intense play about our subtle struggle with the heroic journey, one of Ibsen’s best portraits of raw emotion. A man and woman pick up the pieces of their life after their only child drowns. It is horrific, cathartic, and moving as we experience the full range of human emotions in a rollercoaster ride. The play is about sex, love, marriage, grief, motherhood, revelations, and responsibility. After BURNING HOUSE’s creative director Robert Johnson staged a brilliant CALIGULA at Theatre Works, I wondered how he could pull off creating another perfect experience. Of course he did; staging Melbourne’s first professional production of Ibsen’s searing play about significant relationships.
Producers: Jessica Johnson, Elisa Armstrong & Robert Johnson
Director: Robert Johnson
Production Designer: Bridie Turner
Lighting Design: Tim Bonser
Starring: Elisa Armstrong, Liliana Dalton, Ioanna Gagani, Damien Harrison, Zac Steedman, Alexander Tomisich
TW Explosives Factory, St Kilda is a New York style venue. We’re sitting so close to the action we feel their pain, rage, and hope.
This confronting modern play features topical subject matter: anger, control, death and the fearful longing to love and be loved. Successful execution relies on proper casting and pace – a particular skillset of auteur Robert Johnson. Read his earlier interview about why he decided to stage the play, on my recent TAGG post.
This is a strong cast who work so well together we become voyeurs who hold our breath as we are provoked. Great theatre.
Elisa Armstrong brings initial belligerence to her anger and vulnerability to her fury. She is magnificent as the wife. On stage for most of the 80 minutes, Armstrong has the rare skill of portraying sustained anger at a cellular level with moments of sarcasm and despair. This intelligent actor demonstrates an exceptional range and should continue to be cast in lead roles.
Liliana Dalton was a beguiling Caligula, and she delivers another outstanding performance. What a versatile, gifted actor! Our Australian Jodie Komer.
Rat Woman Ioanna Gagani gave us a delicious cameo of malevolence, power, and authority.
Damien Harrison is the husband who dances anger with Armstrong to perfection. Four actors who have mastered their bodywork, psychological portrayals, and capacity for ensemble as well as lead roles.
The taut triangle of Armstrong, Harrison, and Dalton throughout the play is exciting, brutal, and satisfying.
Zac Steedman plays an extraverted engineer. His reasonable attitude eventually erupts into justifiable anger in a method that remains true to his genial character.
Alexander Tomisich, as the injured Little Eyolf has worked hard on his limp so that all of actors inhabit their roles consistently. As he relaxes into his physical portrayal it will be easier to speak with a little more volume.
The crew ensured a seamless evening. The gut wrenching play has much to teach us about relationships, the anger that sits above hurt, and the imperative to be honest with oneself before we can connect with significant others.
The set has minimal props including the mandala shaped paddling pool, a plunge into the unconscious that demands truth, and the heady fragrance from the purity of white lilies of death and resurrection.
Enthusiastic applause retreated into silence as we were flooded with emotion, unable to move or speak.
This play had a profound impact on me and my partner and everyone else in the audience – viscerally and emotionally. Make sure you see it this week.