Review by Carly Fisher
Death is hard to come to terms with under any circumstance. I imagine it is especially challenging when it is a parent that you are grieving. I have to assume that is compounded even further when the cause of death is suicide.
Everyone has a different way of grieving and that is what creator of the show Patrick Livesey sets out to prove in their 60 minute Verbatim drama Naomi. Portraying eight characters from Naomi’s life, Livesey has curated over 30 hours of interviews to best highlight not the circumstances of death, but importantly, the essence of who Naomi was. The characters include Naomi’s mother, husband, sisters, friends and daughter and each provide an honest and raw account of not just why they loved Naomi, but also their own feelings of guilt, grief and regret. One character that was left out of the piece was Livesey themself - he never mentions it in the piece but Naomi was their mum.
What makes this piece beautifully impactful is that rare insight into exactly what it feels like to lose someone you love, particularly to suicide. Naomi may have been written as an exercise in a son’s own grief and understanding process, but it quickly becomes a lesson that we all need to hear loudly about what it means to be there for someone and how, sometimes even if you are there for them, they need to find their own peace even still. I imagine that for many, Naomi would be a very confronting piece but I hope for even more people it is the start of a very necessary conversation.
Livesey’s performance, directed by Bronwen Coleman, is good though at times some of the female characters do feel caricatured and the accent work confused. I can see that Coleman is trying to create differentiation between the characters and moments of artistry in the inclusion of physical theatre movements and sequences. Personally, I feel that when Livesey was allowed simply to strip back some of the characters, they were the most powerful - the story is more than enough to carry this show and it has been very successfully pieced together by Livesey to achieve this. That said, I do feel that the show likely needed to be a little bit shorter to ride the impact high throughout.
The set is clever - it provides Livesey with oodles of opportunity to create different spaces and times with furniture pieces throughout the space each being attributed to a different character, but did not look busy because of the focus on a large illuminated triangle upstage center. Though symbolically I’m not sure if the triangle held significance, the fact that it was then used to house somewhat of a shrine - a collection of Naomi’s things hung along the internal fencing of the triangle - certainly packed a punch. It was a nice way to divide the show into stages.
The lighting was comfortably one of the best designs I’ve seen this year at any of the fringes I have attended. Though simple, the inclusion of the lamps/globes and the illuminated triangle, along with the well cut focus lights from the back, just gave the piece such an elevated feel to it. Very impressive. Also impressive was the inclusion of original music by Biddy Connor which, when combined with the lighting allowed us to feel that perfect seesaw of a balance issue between eeriness and hopefulness.
Naomi in no way seeks to make light of suicide or of the cirumstances of parental death. Instead, the piece is full of beautiful storytelling - featuring moments of both light and shade - that remind us that nothing is ever clear cut or simple, particularly one’s own emotions.
It is a gift that Livesey shares this extremely personal story with us as an audience. We may be a room full of strangers but Livesey’s honesty and rawness achieve their very clear and very noble goal - to remind us all that we need to talk about suicide, we need to talk about mental illness and talk to those whom we think we can help just by being there, and more than anything, we need to remember that no matter how it feels, you are never alone.