Review by Lucy Holz
Playing for a limited season at St Kilda’s Theatreworks, A Play About Ivy, that is Really About June is having its world premiere at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Written and directed by Olive Weeks, this play explores themes of friendship, sexuality and co-dependence.
This piece follows Ivy, a chaotic 21 year-old navigating her way clumsily through early adulthood. Living with her in their share house is her best friend June, who is Ivy’s sole motivation to do better, to be better. When June decides she needs some space, Ivy struggles to reconcile what that will mean for their friendship and for her future.
Isabelle Ford brings Ivy to life with stunning vocal resonance, effortlessly filling the theatre and easily riding the waves of laughter that follow her beautifully delivered comedic monologues. Ford deftly handles the frequent shifts from comedy to drama, immediately endearing herself to a generous audience.
Ella Newton plays the supporting role of June, creating a coquettish and peppy character, bouncing around the stage with a vibrant energy. Newton’s portrayal contrasts delightfully with Ford’s more grounded take, creating a dynamic relationship between the two that is highly engaging to watch.
Antigone Yannoulidis’ set and costume design is superb. The stage is decorated to resemble a share house bedroom, featuring a queen-size bed centrepiece that looks both inviting and as though the sheets haven’t been washed in months. Overlapping rugs, odd furniture and deliberately placed clothes create a hyper-realistic environment, telling the audience everything we need to know about this house and who lives here.
A dynamic lighting design by Riley Stow helps create cohesion between poetic vignettes. This design successfully conveys a clear sense of time, with a particularly successful blue glow imbuing nighttime scenes with a permeating loneliness.
An eclectic soundscape by Ayda Akbal mixes vocals, lilting strings and diegetic sounds to create an ominous but somewhat jarring score. Soundtracks cut out sharply and are introduced just as suddenly, calling our focus to sounds that should serve to background the onstage action.
Weeks’ writing style is highly poetic, weaving a series of eclectic scenes together through flowing prose rather than racing plot. This combined with sedate pacing and lengthy pauses slows the play considerably, making the moments of humour all the more welcome.
There is little story in this work, yet Weeks adeptly captures the confusion of platonic and romantic relationships intertwining, as well as the heartache of watching a friendship crumble before your very eyes, while you remain powerless to stop it. Ivy is an endearing figure and even when she makes misguided choices, we feel inclined to forgive her.
Weeks knows her audience and plays directly to them, using direct references and familiar experiences to elicit delight and empathy. Capturing themes and moments that are highly relatable, Weeks successfully produces a snapshot of life as a lost 20 something-year old, recreated onstage.