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Review: Is There Something Wrong With That Lady at The Ensemble Theatre

Review by Nola Bartolo

Is there something wrong with that lady? Is this a rhetorical question? On the surface you would think absolutely not. Debra Oswald has had a long and successful writing career in the Australian theatre, film and television industry. A career that many would, let’s be honest kill for. So, I came to this unique “Ted Talk” like performance with an open mind and an open heart and a little scepticism.

Debra Oswald and director Lee Lewis reunite to bring this infectiously funny, deeply personal and totally honest exploration of the ups and downs and in-betweens of being a writer to the Ensemble stage. Debra Oswald fell in love with theatre at a very young age. But did it love her back? Good question. How do you cope with rejection and success and then more rejection? How does a child hypochondriac, with a blundering romantic history learn to cope with the demands of writing in showbiz? Will the success of Offspring change things or is the writer’s lot one huge stumble from disaster to disaster? Debra needs to move on. Can the audience help her to decide what to do next? Yes, they can. Keep writing Debra, keep writing!

Debra Oswald was incredibly honest and humble in her delivery filled with giggles and gasps. The stage was surrounded by storage boxes that clearly represented her life. We can pack so much in, right? What was great was that she unpacked it all with the audience with charm and it felt like she was opening herself up to be healed from the shame that she felt within.

As a middle-aged woman who has failed in this industry over and over again, I was relating to so much of what Debra was sharing. The waiting game for example. The inequality that this industry has historically represented as another example. Let’s face it the theatre world in Sydney is incredibly tiny and run predominately by men. As is the rest of the entertainment industry in television and film. As I let my own prejudices fall away in the show, I was won over by Debra’s humanness. She described emotions that we tend to keep in the dark. She talked of loneliness, rejection, sex, love, devastation, dysfunctional families, mental illness to a degree. But she also talked of her relentless passion and her consistency when it comes to her work. She did not take no for an answer. She wrote no matter what. She continued to submit and then wait. She had success and failure.

I particularly loved when she talked about having a mini breakdown in the aisle at Woolworths and some little girl asked her mother “Is there something wrong with that lady?” it is not unusual to hear a song and be transported back to a time and then fall apart with emotions in public. I have been in that very position. Thank you, Debra, for bringing your story back to the stage. A place where you love. A place where you can connect intimately with an audience and last night, I felt connected to you as a mother, a writer, a woman and a lover of this beautiful world of entertainment. Thank you for the inspiration to continue this sometimes lonely but incredibly fulfilling path. The show deserved the standing ovation.

Is there something wrong with that lady runs till October 14, 2023 at The Ensemble. I recommend you see it. Especially if you are a fan of her career. But even if you’re not it is worth it.

Image Supplied


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