Review by Stephanie Lee
Cactus is warm, funny, heartbreaking and captivating from start to finish. It will have you laughing hysterically one minute and crying the next, as it takes you through the journey of friendship, loss and adolescence.
The plot follows best friends Abbie and PB as they navigate their high school years from first periods, to first time having sex, to trying to find their ‘passion’. However, Abbie soon discovers she has a medical complication and after having life altering surgery to fix it, begins to drift further away from PB.
The set for this production is particularly unique as it consists of a series of artificial grass covered boxes that create different levels for the actors to utilise throughout the performance. Although the set remains stationary the entire show, the different levels, and the grass reminiscent of school courtyards help to add a playfulness to the whole performance. The various levels also are incredibly effective as they allow the actors to sit and stand on them in many interesting ways, even having them use two of the boxes as toilets in the opening sequence.
Both actors wear a school uniform as their main costume with PB in shorts and Abbie a skirt to cleverly denote the differences in personality between them. Similarly, the subtle difference of shoes, with PB’s vivacious green converse and Abbie’s more reserved black boots nicely adds to their characters. The little costume additions such as a hospital gown when Abbie gets her operation and the coats when the girls go to formal also help transition the scenes and add a nice sense of movement to the piece.
Daniella Esposito’s school-inspired sound design skilfully assists the transition between scenes and locations throughout the entire piece. The sound, such as the school chatter, is almost continuous but blends so seamlessly that it becomes a part of the scenery to the production, marking location in a set that remains the same. For instance, the hospital beeping playing under the procedural scene not only situates the action in a hospital but also adds to the tension by inviting the audience into the experience with Abbie through sound.
Further, the sound effect of a message sending effectively integrates into the witty back and forth dialogue between Abbie and PB over text. It not only heightens the comedy of the moment but also adds distress in the moments where one person stops responding to the other and all that can be heard is the sound of text messages being sent incessantly with no pause and reponse.
Similarly, Aedan Gale’s lighting design also nicely compliments the static set. In moments of tension, the lower lighting state truly adds to the mood and allows the audience to sit in a more reflective state. One of my favourite parts of the design is the spotted pattern on one square when Abbie is explaining her vision, which draws the audience in and encourages them to imagine along with her.
Lucy Rossen as PB and Ayesha Harris-Westman as Abbie are an incredible duo throughout the entire performance. The friendship chemistry between them is amazing, they truly make you feel like you are happening upon snippets of their characters’ conversations. Both Rossen and Harris-Westman’s delivery of the fast-paced, witty dialogue is honestly a delight to watch. Some of my favourite moments have to be the toilet stall talk about surprise periods, the gossiping about a kid who got his penis stuck in a test tube and the studying for the PE test which involved a series of movements about what body part is being hit.
Furthermore, Rossen’s switching of character during the moments where Abbie’s reflection is interjected with other characters’ dialogue never pulls focus from Abbie and assists the moments so wonderfully. Also, the shift into the confrontation at the end of the performance is incredibly powerful as Rossen’s entire body completely changes to reflect this other side of her character and successfully creates a poignant moment of seriousness amongst the humour of the play.
The absolute highlight of the performance must be the script itself written by Madelaine Nunn, with the writing truly transporting you into the lives of these two friends and their struggles. Despite exploring quite difficult and under-discussed topics, the play remains light-hearted and a beautiful piece centring on female friendship.
If you enjoy talented and passionate storytelling that warms the heart, then definitely grab tickets to Cactus at La Mama!