By Carly Fisher
Kicking off the Old 505’s Freshworks Femme program, Hairworm by Emma Wright offers a powerful, albeit academic, look into the destructive nature of eating disorders and the toxicity of one’s own mind in the ultimate battle against itself. Devised as an ensemble heavy piece, Hairworm features a 9 strong ensemble of women and Written, Produced, Directed, Designed and crafted by almost exclusively women, its great to see a strong new piece of Australian theatre coming from this clearly femme-powered team, something which is always great to see in the Sydney theatre scene.
Wright’s script follows an unnamed protagonist through their journey from body shaming as a pre-teen to a completely debilitating slew of mental illnesses that plague her every move and every thought. Rebekah Parsons takes on this lead role, controlled completely by Laura Wilson who personifies Anorexia Nervosa. Both do a good job at leading the cast and delivering the stakes of the relationship with each other for each character, Laura too alluding to her role in the destruction of the lives of those surrounding those whom her character affects.
I was surprised by the decision to keep all characters unnamed and yet allotted to individuals – the opening style of the text, delivered in such a traditional chorus format, lent itself so nicely to this script seeing all 9 women taking on moments of the ‘affected protagonist’ and I was excited for both the artistry of that but also for the power of that message, of some sort of reminder that whilst this is an isolating illness, it is not an isolated illness. Though the text didn’t and needn’t have followed the model I must admit I was expecting from the first few minutes of the show, one of the major thematic misses for me was the lack of commentary about just how widespread this issue is.
As a script, Hairworm left me divided. Particular moments were so raw and emotive that they felt completely honest and informed. Of note, Alex King’s and Sophie Styrkowski’s monologues as the sibling and friend respectively delivered these moments of brut force in punches. They were the messages we needed to hear about the lives of those left to the wayside and both actors certainly had the chops to impact the audience with these moments. On the other hand, other parts of the text felt overly academic to a point devoid of feeling or, perhaps, just to a point where as an audience member I couldn’t emotionally engage with the facts because they were simply that, just facts. Some ensemble members seem to carry the lion share of these fact delivery moments rendering them almost the narrator but not a member of the protagonist’s life in a meaningful way and I was waiting to see who they were and how they fit beyond the science.
Academics aside, for a piece early in her career, Emma Wright has a lot to be proud of and I have no doubt that this will be an Australian voice we will hear more from in the near future and I look forward to it.
The production hosted a very minimalist set and simplistic costumes that were just uniformed enough to keep the design tight but offered enough individuality to keep the 9 women unique. The set, made up of floor to ceiling sheets of thick plastic allowed for great moments of harmony between the functionality of Kate Beere’s set and the intricate lighting design by Priyanka Martin. With sound by Cecelia Strachan added into the mix, the design team worked extremely well together to give the location this feeling of being nowhere and yet everywhere at the same time. It was clever designing from the whole team and gave director, Jess Davis’ production room to live with the support of creative lighting behind the plastic sheets, and without the restrictions of an undetermined space in a black box theatre.
On the direction, Davis clearly worked exceptionally closely with this team of women to create this well constructed and dynamic production. At risk of being wordy, Davis’ experience was a clear asset to the show and at no point was the audience lacking in visual stimuli – there were always people to watch doing something, somewhere within the space, and yet with total purpose and understanding.
Ultimately, I maintain, I was divided. I had high expectations for the show going in and coming out I wasn’t sure that they were met. Some actors had shining moments, some moments of the piece were truly brilliant, but others simply stalled and in only 60 minutes, there simply isn’t time for that. I did enjoy the performance and I’m definitely glad I didn’t miss it but with such powerful moments and such a killer ending, I couldn’t help walking out wishing for more.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.