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Review: Affliction at Legs on the Wall Red Box Theatre

By Abbie Gallagher

Affliction written by Lauren Orrell had its world premiere at this year's Sydney Fringe, staged by Fluffy Bunny Carrot Face Productions with support from Legs on the Wall. Content warnings were prominently displayed and rightly so, since the synopsis is as follows:

Every single one of us has a voice inside our heads. Some are more real than others. After the suicide of her uncle, Daniel, foul mouthed and X-Files obssessed, eleven year old Lolly, finds herself wrestling with her very own metaphorical and literal demons. After an unspeakable incident involving her mother, Lolly, runs away from home, all the way to the end of her driveway, where she is promptly abducted by aliens before waking up in the midst of an intake for a paediatric psych ward. Lauren Orrell’s Affliction is extremely raw, intensely painful, and very, very funny.

Few plays out there deal with mental illness, less of them accurately and even fewer tackle the thought of childhood psychosis, or whichever condition Lolly has since it's never explicitly stated what she has.  

Overall, I was wildly disappointed in the production. With Steve Le Marquand directing and a cast including industry heavyweight Deborah Jones, this show had the potential to be a raw and honest depiction of a sociopathic child. Instead, the pieces of this play didn't remotely fit together and came across as pretentious. 

No programme was provided for the audience which made keeping track of actors and characters nearly impossible unless you knew them all personally. The lack of structure in the script added to the confusion and the direction did little to create a cohesive vision. I realise that Orrell was attempting to show the mess that mental health issues are, but unfortunately it was extremely difficult to follow what was going at any given point and the gratuitous blood and gore and constant use of the C-word for really no purpose other than shock value was simply exhausting for me. The overuse of profanity in general was pointless and felt lazy. 

The Red Box Theatre was simply not an appropriate venue to stage this production in. Clare Heuston's sound design appears to have been created without considering the circumstances of performing in essentially a giant warehouse. The volume of the sound effects constantly drowned out a huge amount of the dialogue, which again affected comprehension for the audience.

However, the lighting design did work and was effective at establishing the focus and the mood for each scene. 

Playwright Lauren Orrell portrayed 11 year old Lolly and sadly she lacked believability as a young girl. Even a psychologically disturbed child wouldn't speak like an adult, and Lolly had few redeeming qualities apart from her age, not to mention the general inaccuracies of how psychiatric wards operate. The rest of the performances were mixed, with the cast gamely navigating their unlikeable roles even though the majority of side characters served little to no purpose in the story, and the ones who did were shallow as they were not fleshed out. James Hartley as the psychiatric nurse got a couple of giggles from me, but nowhere near to the standard I'm used to from his work with Upper Crass Theatre Company. 

But where Affliction really falls short is in the violence and horror it's attempting to portray. As I said, the gore felt unmerited and unearned. Scenes such as the one where Lolly ripped out a unicorn's heart and ate it didn't make a lick of sense. Maybe it wasn't meant to, but I for one couldn't even begin to tell you what that was supposed to symbolise. Elements like this made me feel uncomfortable, and not in the way theatre generally should. It seems more of a pet project than a work trying to decipher real-life trials. 

I commend the production for attempting to tackle such intense subject matter. It's unfortunate that it didn't come together successfully. Affliction is a work in progress at best, and one that needs more outside eyes and far more development before it reaches its goal of a raw depiction of paediatric psychology. 

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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