Review by Kate Gaul
Presented by the Plain English Theatre Company this play – whose writer wishes to remain anonymous – is directed by emerging artist James Robertson. The play – we are told in the program note – explores the misunderstood illness OCD. One of the warnings around the production is that it contains simulated nudity (what’s that you ask? Read on). We meet a young couple who grapple with the complexities of a newborn and who both suffer from OCD. A good portion of this 70-minute offering is spent setting up the conflicts, confusions, and care by the new parents. The scene grinds on with no seeming purpose. The circumstances could have been set up in less than half the time.
We are presented with a theatrically-naturalistic domestic setting (designers Annamaria and Georgina Pynta) – couch, coffee table, attractive cushions, floor rug, and throw. A flimsy coloured wall suggests a front door. An oversized baby’s crib commands attention. The baby is very much the focus of these opening scenes, so it is alarming when the realistically sized prop baby is unceremoniously dumped in a bin next to the door.
At this point we are introduced to the first presentation of personified internal manifestations of the parents – in full simulated nudity. A wild woman who proclaims she will cut off her breast. The woman is wearing flesh-coloured undergarments. The discombobulating sight and strange text (was it heightened?) of an actor in these garments – which of course we are then meant to imagine is nudity – was ludicrous.
Later a modestly dressed man arrives proclaiming he will cut off his penis with bread-and-butter knife. Sprinkles of (the wrong kind) of laughter ensue. A spray of some kind of red goop from visible sauce bottles arrays our “realistic” characters. Is this an attempt at the Grand Guignol, some version of the Theatre of Cruelty, or both? Are these “bold” choices or just plain undergraduate idiocy? The stylistic confusion of this production is neither bold nor inspired. It lacks rigour and needs a measure of sensible dramaturgy.
This production is a series of ideas but not an adequately rendered dramatic experience. I can’t comment on the actors as roles are not assigned names in the program – I notice this is a trend just now. As I imagine everyone is participating in this show as volunteers the least the producer can do is let us identify who is who – if nothing else but for future reference.
While I applaud a venue that “gives everyone a go” sometimes I just wonder if sending an idea back to the studio isn’t a better idea. There is no doubt from the writer’s and director’s notes accompanying the production that this is heartfelt material and there is a genuine desire to break down the barriers to non-understanding around mental health.