Review by Raechyl French
Returning from a highly successful 2019 run at the Old Fitz, the current season of Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide is a testament to theatre’s transcendent, provocative and deeply transformative abilities. Presented by Sugary Rum Productions, Chopt Logic and the Seymour Centre, Anatomy of a Suicide depicts the interweaving story of three women- grandmother, mother and daughter- that unravels the complexities of living with intergenerational mental collapse.
Guiding this tour de force, Shane Anthony takes on a true hand full as the show’s Director, Designer and co-Producer. Anthony’s multidisciplinary work as a director, producer, movement coach and dramaturg shines as the dynamic staging invigorates the simultaneously unfolding scenes, drawing the eye in tandem with the text to pivotal shifting moments with each woman. His direction is exceptionally impressive and a masterclass for those considering how to bring stories like this to life.
Though a domestic setting, the space is hygienically white. Anthony and Gus Murray’s design cleverly provides a sliding doors space where all three stories are told both singularly and simultaneously. With minimal dressing downstage and a stark white-walled domestic setting split by three glass windowed French doors, the clinical sparseness achieved lends itself to a timeless connection between each story. The effect is a prevailing ‘what if?’ concerning each of the women’s limited space, insinuating a claustrophobic navigation of expectations within each context.
Vocal Coach Danielle Roffe develops an ideal vocal soundscape of accents and dynamic characters embodied without flaw, signalling specific time periods and class across the three women’s stories that addressed shifting social parameters. Though at times the overlapping dialogue was distracting, its purpose was far from lost as it attempted to reflect the weaving of each woman’s experience together, whilst still well arranged enough to allow for the effective spotlighting of turning points.
The play’s success relies heavily on the development of an aural experience, a sensorial experience even. It not just succeeds but excels in this department.
The cast of 10 exhibit the best of Sydney’s current theatrical talents. At the core of the work are masterful performances by Kate Skinner, Anna Houston and Anna Samson. It is a pleasure to witness the dynamic, generous, self-effacing and intelligent performances of these seasoned and skilled actors. Each delicately navigates their inherent circumstantial difficulties to varying success in escaping the generational suffering, integrating larger themes of a woman’s capacity to overcome. Where Samson offers a commanding presence despite her manic energy and deep grief, Skinner portrays a more bristling sense of intellect and self-assuredness, particularly when contrasted with Houston’s frenetic timidity, clutching at straws to endure.
Importantly, this story centres upon women navigating life in their 30s and 40 s- an all too rare sight on Sydney stages and a refreshingly relatable piece therefore to watch.
The supporting cast provide equally invigorating performances. Harriett Gordon-Anderson brings a signature saltiness and vulnerability, Danielle Catanzariti a spread of delightfully flexible and comedic (sometimes indulgently naughty) younger characters, and Natalie Saleeba’s array of witty, whip smart and often ruthless women.
The men are well utilised to expose each woman’s inability to mitigate their suffering. Jack Angwin’s Jamie brings equal energy and need to Samson’s Anna while James O’Connell’s John shares our anguish and loss over Carol’s desires. Teale Howie skilfully chops between his five diverse characters with specificity, precision and ease. Guy O’Grady’s kindness seeps into each character, offering momentary respite from the ensuing tragedy.
The combination of a strong cast and a highly successful design team make this some of the best theatre I have seen in a long time.
This is highlighted by Morgan Moroney’s lighting design which offers clear spatial and temporal delineation, magnifying the metaphorical chasms between the women on a logistically tight playing space.
Haunting sound design by Nate Edmondson perfectly underscores the brilliant work on stage, gently yet adamantly drawing the audience towards the play’s final and inevitable moments.
A production of this quality deserves a larger stage across the theatre spaces in Australia and I certainly hope that we will see it picked up again soon. It is a piece to be seen.
That said, it is not for the faint-hearted and whilst the title implies a certain degree of trigger potential, due to the graphic depictions of mental health treatments and suicide, please consider if this piece is right for you before buying your ticket. For those that can, you will not regret seeing this show.
Anatomy of a Suicide is a gripping, tough yet tender piece of theatre that stays nestled in you long after the curtain call. Bravo!
Image Credit: Phil Erbacher