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Review: Donor at The Motley Bauhaus - Melb Fringe

Review By Tessa Stickland

Donor is a moving and darkly funny one-person play written and performed by Julia Grace.

It follows the story of a 40-something woman stuck in her life, unsure how to do something with it.

Julia Grace is a natural on the stage. And by 'natural' I really mean that she's well studied and practised – with the air of ease.

Despite the small-ish stage upstairs at The Motley Bauhaus – Grace has a canny skill that makes the audience feel the size of wherever her character is. Be it an open lobby, a hospital bed, or the 'non-space' of a dream sequence or moment of poetic language that takes place outside of the direct narrative.

Of course, her physicality is key in achieving this. But it wouldn't be of much use without the words she's written. Her descriptions and vivid and witty. She also embodies the space through the reactions and feelings of her characters.

Gace frequently employs metaphors to describe a space. It's perfect because it allows the audience room to conjure up images of their own, instead of being bogged down by too much literal description.

Grace doesn't treat the audience like an idiot. She gives us just enough to do a little imaginative work of our own, without the burden or boredom of figuring it out alone.

Balance is absolutely Grace's strong suit. Everything she does is executed with purpose – be the goal laughter or introspection.

Grace guides the audience gracefully through changes in tone and subject matter. She uses a combination of sharp shifts and gentle blends.

The show starts humour heavy – and fairly light for an exploration of existential dread – but it ends more heavily on the earnest side. She swaps between open colloquial language and a more poetic, literary vocabulary.

Grace's performance is complimented by simple yet effective lighting and sound design.

Soundscapes of hospital beeps and hushed murmuring contribute to the audience's sense of location and help punctuate Grace's dialogue.

Unfortunately, the upstairs room at The Motley Bauhaus isn't the most ideal venue for the sound design to take full effect. Noise from the bar and second stage downstairs drift up just enough to be annoying.

It's not totally distracting and it's easy enough to tune out. However, it still detracts from the soundscapes. They're subtle by design, so the background noise makes it a little hard to make out at times. And planned moments of silence missed their impact.

It's not a show ruining issue. I'm nitpicking here more than anything. I can just see the missed potential, and I see it being even better in different conditions.

But hey, a) this is Fringe; b) you can't guarantee how a venue will be set up; and c) prior access to venues is limited (especially during performance conditions). There's not a whole lot you can do about this as a small production during a festival.

As to be expected by the title and poster illustration (by Brian Cheung), Donor talks about donating organs, life threatening illnesses, and death. If this is something close to your heart, it might be a reason to see the show or a reason to skip it (for now, at least).

If you're currently dealing with a loved one's (our your own) terminal illness or hospitalisation, this could be triggering. So check in with yourself and see how you're feeling.

That being said, I can also see this being a very healing show. While there is sadness, the overall outlook is positive (if bittersweet).

I brought my colleague from my day job to see the show. She found similarities in the story to her own experiences. She felt deeply connected to the performance and was touched by the sensitivity and humility brought by Grace.

Donor strikes a skilled balance between humour and emotional impact – and that excites my theatre-going heart (and liver, and lungs, and other donatable organs)!

Image Supplied


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