By Rosie Niven
What do you do when you’ve had an illustrious career creating wonderful characters for the world: first as a playwright, then a screenwriter, then a novelist? If you’re Debra Oswald, you flip the script and become a character yourself. Taking to the stage in this intimate one-woman show, Oswald returns to the place where she first fell in love with theatre, reflecting on her life as a woman and a writer.
Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? gets off to a slow start - when Oswald first walks onto stage the audience hesitantly quietens as they’re not sure the show has quite begun. Adding to this is length of time the house lights (audience lighting) stays on, only dimming 5-10 minutes into the performance. However, as the show progresses her confidence grows and we’re laughing along to relatable quips and embarrassing histories. It is in this dialogue that Oswald shines, reminding you constantly why her texts have been well-awarded and widely produced.
Once that confidence is found, Oswald is a charming character and welcomes you enthusiastically into her narrative. Leading us through the trials and tribulations of falling in love, desperately seeking approval from her mother, and looking for purpose in an uncertain career, the audience is offered a highlight reel of both her personal and professional life. For someone who grew up with Oswald’s plays, this was an exciting notion (Dags was an incredibly popular choice in my extra-curricular drama class, to the point where the teacher asked us all to “pick another show, for Christ’s sake!”). It was exciting to hear the witty dialogue many of us are familiar with brought to life by the very person that penned it.
The show struggles because Oswald is not an experienced performer - a fantastic playwright, yes, but she doesn’t have the stage presence to singularly command an audience for close to 90 minutes. The dialogue is engaging, and her storytelling of the hurdles she’s had in life are poetic, but the performance is missing the dramatic flair. With minimal props and audio-visual flair, Oswald is left without much assistance. Had Director Lee Lewis been more heavy-handed with the direction of this work, perhaps it would have been able to capture the audience for the entirety of the show.
Someone in the audience behind me commented at the end of the show, “she’s saying everything that needs to be said that others are afraid to talk about”. While the acknowledgements of gender imbalance in the arts are not new ones, nor are the conversations about the shrinking opportunities for women as they age, perhaps this show is bringing those messages to a new audience. If the conversations that need to be urgently had are reaching a new market, then by some measure it is still a successful show.
Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? is playing at the SBW Stables Theatre in Kings Cross until April 24, 2021.
Photo Credit: Brett Boardman