Review by Stephanie Lee
Jack and Millie is a highly personal and playful look at how people are able to process difficult periods in life. Alaine Beek’s writing is honest, yet entertaining, allowing audiences into her experience with breast cancer.
The play follows Millie, someone at the top of her career when she receives a breast cancer diagnosis that causes her great stress. In order to cope, Millie’s mind creates Jack who is effectively a form of imaginary friend that helps Millie process her cancer and get through her treatments. Along the way Millie also reconnects with Declan, who she went to university with and whose wife died of cancer. Perhaps most interestingly, none of the characters encountered in the play are in any way presented as perfect since Millie makes rash decisions, Declan left his wife when she got really sick, and Millie’s mother runs too much interference at times. However, the play’s lack of glorification works to its strength as it paints a genuinely human portrayal of dealing with such a difficult illness like cancer.
The design of the piece was rather simple, allowing for the vast transformations of time, place and character to happen continuously throughout the show. At times the two big boxes being lifted and moved into position are a little clunky, which detracts from the flow of the performance. However, the sparseness created by the set consisting of merely two big rectangular boxes and a couple of coat racks is very fitting and allows for interesting shapes to be created.
Under the direction of Nigel Sutton, the non-naturalistic nature of the performance shines through and movement sequences infuse the text with a liveliness reminiscent of youth. Some of the most captivating moments of the performance are the Millie’s tests as they are portrayed by abstracted, stylised choreographic sections creating the impression of machines with the actors’ movements and the manipulation of a scarf.
All three actors, Alaine Bleek, Phil Cameron-Smith and Ross Daniels, add their own flair to the piece balancing each other out nicely. Particularly stand out though is Ross Daniels who plays multiple side characters including Millie’s mother and Declan. Daniels impressively adopts multiple different accents and embodies each character in a unique way moving consistently between them. His side performances added the most humour to the play with his portrayal of Millie’s overbearing mother being the most entertaining throughout. Cameron-Smith’s facial expressions also create many light-hearted moments for the audience as depicts Jack’s constant presence by physically placing himself in between Millie and other characters. Bleek also delivers a strong performance as Millie, moving between the character’s more earnest moments and her bluntness. The performers all imbue the piece with a sense of playfulness, which is very infectious.
Jack and Millie while at times a little awkwardly put together and stilted is an incredibly accessible and lovely example of storytelling in its simplest form. It is heartfelt and speaks to something many people don’t know how to express in a kind, funny, warm way.