By Priscilla Issa
The big question – are Poppy’s tics a manifestation of her mind or are the spasms the result of exposure to toxins? Katie Pollock’s play, Normal, is a rollercoaster of emotion. As the play progresses, audiences cannot help but jump on board the same mass hysteria that Poppy’s townsfolk, school friends and media are riding.
At one stage, psychologist, Sheila, mentions that perhaps the tics are psychogenic. If Poppy’s tics are in fact physical pain caused by psychological trauma, which she admits to at one stage of the play, why has she enabled this to happen? Perhaps she is distressed at Sky, her best friend, leaving her school. Perhaps it is a result of the turbulent relationship she has with her struggling, single mother. Or, perhaps paradoxically she enjoys the attention these ‘painful’ and ‘dreaded’ tics provide her.
Pollock’s decision to leave the play open-ended is clever. The audience is left questioning whether there should have been a conclusion to a modern suburban detective story or whether mass hysteria, an homage to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, is an allegory to personal acceptance in a small community.
Actors, Alexandra Morgan, Cecilia Morrow and Finley Penrose, have convincingly evoked the brutal physicality of the spasms, and the despair and angst experienced by school friends Poppy, Sasha and Sky. Furthermore, the tumultuous relationship between mother, Heather (Cecilia Morrow) and daughter, Poppy (Alexandra Morgan), was convincing. Cecilia captured a mother’s desperation and overwhelming love for her child in a mature and honest way. Alexandra’s portrayal of a teenager who desperately wants to be listened to and for her life to appear ‘normal’, was thoroughly commendable and believable. It was, however, Chika Ikogwe’s controlled and calculated portrayal of Ms Holt that was a most pleasant surprise. There, is an actress with the potential for theatrical greatness; her roles were never overplayed but were always measured and the inclusion of cleverly timed comic relief was welcome.
Anthony Skuse’s direction of two friends vehemently in need of being each other’s grounding force, was outstanding. Finley and Alexandra explored the lengths their characters would go to in order to stand by each other’s sides; or, at the very least, the actors brought into question how effectively people provide safe spaces for their friends to express themselves. The most emotional scenes between these two actors were expertly enhanced by the effective minimalism of the set – a lit up box exposing all facets of the characters’ emotions – which was designed by Kelsey Lee. As they say – sometimes the simpler, the better. In addition, Cluny Edwards’s decision to use white noise alongside the cacophony of lines snapped by the actors, was a nod to the kind of music one would expect to hear in re-enactments of the 1600s Salem witch trials. Eerie stuff.
All in all, this proved to be a highly thought-provoking show. My congratulations to the team on a powerful production exploring the notions of personal plight. The show runs until June 15 at The Old 505 Theatre. This experience for the senses is definitely not to be missed!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.