Review by Regan Baker
To think that before 2019 I had never been to a proper play before and hadn’t even heard of Queensland Theatre blows my mind. Now, some three-years and seven reviews later, they have quickly become a staple in my annual list of shows. There is always an air of excitement surrounding their new productions as they have a deep passion of tackling hard-hitting stories that keep you on the edge of your seat. The Almighty Sometimes is one of those stories. A Queensland story of love, loss, addiction, and coming-of-age that explores the complexities of mental health and the impact it has on different types of relationships. It is beautiful, funny, and challenging, yet raw, emotional, and persevering. Bring tissues – they may come in handy.
As a child, Anna (Melissa Kahraman) was a wildly imaginative and brilliant young writer who filled pages and pages of notebooks each day with stories of adventure, fantasy, and relationships. As she grew older however, her stories grew darker, and combined with the loss of her father, her newly single mother, Renee (Rachel Gordon), became worried about her young daughter’s emotional state. Now 18, Anna has been on medication for so long that she can’t even remember who she is without it. She misses that young girl with a beautiful imagination and longs for a life outside of her medication and her sometimes over-protective mother, who has always just wanted what was best for her.
The Almighty Sometimes is full of complex relationships that Director Daniel Evans has masterfully pulled out of the pages of Kendall Feaver’s award-winning and superb script and woven into a deeply moving performance. Through his playful and impactful direction, we find our sympathy shifting sides from mother to daughter, as the ever-growing depths of Anna’s mental stability unfold on stage before us. Their relationship balances on a knifes edge, and the slightest shift changes the dynamic of the pair and the empathy and sympathy we have for their plight. The way Evan’s balances this relationship is the shining light that makes this play what it is, a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of medicated mental health practices.
In her Queensland Theatre debut, Kahraman shines as an incredibly diverse and multi-dimensional actor. Her ability to shift instantly from an awkward and calm, flirtatious and cheeky young woman, to an unstable, relapsing, out of control suicide threat was unparalleled. The emotion and brokenness she displayed in a constant rollercoaster of highs and lows of varying levels of a medicated state were superbly controlled. Anna is an incredibly complicated character that has so much to unpack, but I cannot see anyone else playing the role as perfectly as Melissa Kahraman.
Opposite her, Rachel Gordon portrayed a heavily conflicted and multi-emotional Renee that fights hard against the waves of her daughter’s moods like a ship navigating a storm. The love she holds for her daughter is deeply evident and Gordon does a magnificent job of presenting an authentic characterisation of a single mother in her position. One minute we are on Renee’s side – and then Anna has a turn for the better and we want to explore her newfound confidence and creativity more and are urging Renee to back down a little. These waves of emotions and the constantly changing relationship between these two characters is the absolute highlight of the show.
Will Bartolo, also in his Queensland Theatre debut, presents a comical, clueless, strong, and conflicted Oliver. You can read the emotion on his face like a book, and he presents a very believable characterisation of a young man looking for love. He is a tad awkward, very understanding and typically navigates the emotional rollercoaster that is Anna, well. Similarly, Luisa Prosser does a remarkable job as Anna’s psychiatrist, Vivienne, who floats atop the aforementioned wave like a bird hovering above the chaos below. She maintains control of her emotions like a true professional while still showing a deep respect and care for Anna’s well-being. Her insightful and guiding hand looks to assist Anna in her journey into adulthood as she looks to explore new paths for her mental health and to do what is right by her.
It’s the smallest cast I have seen in a Queensland Theatre performance, but also one of the most dynamic and powerful. Each character was complexly written, superbly directed, and flawlessly executed.
Queensland’s only lighting designer, Ben Hughes brings incredible life to this performance with his multi-tonal hues and floating and hidden lighting choices. I jest of course, but I swear almost everything I review these days has Hughes at the helm of the lighting department. It makes sense though, considering his wealth of experience and undeniable skill at bringing life to any performance.
In any drama, especially one of this nature, the soundscape plays an immensely powerful and important role in bringing the conflict and emotion of the story to life. Composer and sound designer, Mike Willmett, superbly heightens the complexity of this play through a challenging and emotive score.
There Is not a single element of The Almighty Sometimes that didn’t offer an emotional response for the audience. It must have been hard a decision for Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, Lee Lewis, to hand over the reins of this production after directing its Australian debut for the Griffin Theatre Company in 2018, but she can rest well assured that it has been left in the safest hands possible. A remarkable performance that is a must see for any theatre lover.