Presented by Oily Rag Theatre
Reviewed 3rd May, 2018
The first time this haunting and uncompromising work was performed in Adelaide was thirteen years ago, by the Flinders University Drama Centre. We can thank newly formed theatre company, Oily Rag, for bravely giving Hilary Bell’s 1996 play its second Adelaide airing. Although it’s the work of an emerging playwright, it’s still a mighty fine piece of psychological and sociological exploration, and its subject matter is not for the faint-hearted director or actor.
Done in one 75-minute sitting, its plot centres on the horror of a child accused of murdering a toddler. Did she do it? And if she did, what were the reasons? Bell’s story locates Lizzie, the disturbed nine-year-old child of separated parents, in a remote Tasmanian town. She lives with her busy hairdresser mum but sees her dad weekly. Both parents seem affectionate, though overworked, distracted and beset with their own personal demons.
Production designer Shannon Norfolk and director Kristin Telfer have wisely honoured the playwright’s suggestion, and left the acting area reasonably clear, dressing it with multi-purpose blocks much like outsized children’s building blocks and Lego.
Hilary Bell’s script requests that Lizzie be played by an adult actor, and in this production it’s Shannon Gray, whose energy, physicality and vocal work make her a worryingly convincing child. Gray’s work lacks caricature; she balances the complex components of her character quite successfully. Despite some minor audibility and clarity issues, she’s the best thing on stage.
As Lizzie’s mother, Heather Crawford worked hard in her pivotal role, but appeared to have no clear idea of her character’s trajectory. Damien White performed the role of the police sergeant with all the moustachioed bluster of Inspector Frost. His authoritarian approach was absolutely correct for the mid-nineties, but I suspect the writing harboured more nuanced responses within the character than White displayed.
A word about blackouts: this play was bedevilled with them. And each time the lights went down, there were loud footsteps, thumps and the sad dragging sounds of those blocks being shifted. The odd loud thump made us worry that an actor may have been hurt. Children’s chants used during transitions were neither long enough nor of sufficient acoustic quality to save us from the Removalists’ Symphony. The blackouts were too long, and desperately needed either quiet music or ambient sound to help pad the down-time between scenes.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Venue: Holden Street Theatre
Season: 3rd – 12th May, 2018
Duration: 75 minutes
Tickets: Full Price: $20:00 Concession: $16:00