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Review: THE END OF WINTER at The Gallery at The Courtyard of Curiosities, Migration Museum - ADL Fringe

Review by Lisa Lanzi

Are you someone who loves the heat of Summer?  Or are you more comfortable around Wintery temperatures and all the trappings of cold weather? 

Reading the blurb for this play before agreeing to review, I was intrigued but concerned.  I am the essential cold-weather person, much preferring to wrap myself in cosy layers and tramp along a stormy beach, or through a snowy landscape - so that element won me over.  My concern though was didacticism outweighing the artistic in The End of Winter.  I didn’t feel the need to be lectured or want to leave the theatre more depressed about the dire emergency of the climate crisis that already intrudes into my consciousness daily.  Fortunately, none of that was an issue.  This theatre work is impressive, affecting, and the residual impact will remain with me for some time.

The End of Winter was shortlisted for the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting in 2023, and without doubt, Noëlle Janaczewska has written a compelling and powerful work.  Although peppered with intriguing facts about all manner of ‘cold-related’ minutiae, never does your attention waiver and not once did the morsels of information feel forced.  Rather, there exists a kind of stream of consciousness mood to the entire monologue where fascinating or alarming facts emerge from, or lead into, a parallel narrative about the character’s family, the state of grief, her journeying and self-discovery, the nature in and of cold places, or relate to her wonderment coupled with alarm at where humanity might fetch up when our climate eventually collapses and does not reset.

Set loosely in the Southern summer of 2019/2020 when Australia burned with a terrifying ferocity, this non-linear work also speaks of the mythology of Winter and ponders the variety of words used to describe cold in different parts of the world.  The unnamed character played by the gifted Jane Phegan has many opinions about our world and about humanity’s pursuit of pleasure over conscious planning and consideration of where our carelessness may lead.  Phegan is possessed of a rich vocal timbre with astounding clarity.  The power of her voice is matched by her calculated physicality, her dramatic presence, and the way she connects so brilliantly to her audience and to the text.  She is undeniably the right actor to give life to this role with her excellent emotional range and obvious compassion.

Also pleasing is the sound score composed by Nate Edmondson (plus Co-composer & Sound Designer Kaitlyn Crocker).  They have constructed a gentle, non-invasive, moody accompaniment that perfectly complements and frames the action.  Production designer Soham Apte has created a physical yet undetailed manifestation of a subsiding dwelling, lit from within by various shifting colours.  The wooden structure sits slanted on a highly reflective black surface that references rising waters; in turn, it might be an iceberg, or perhaps a place to perch on your mother’s kitchen bench as you chat.  The entire production is illuminated by Becky Russell’s lighting states that echo emotion or situation.  Director/producer Kate Gaul has guided Phegan with a combination of impeccable restraint and detail so that the character and the text shine.  

This work is complex but entertaining, emotionally varied but crystal clear, as well as a masterclass in acting and performing.  The End of Winter is both monologue and elegy - a poetic meditation on the personal situated within global considerations and delivered with warmth, humour, and perhaps a small degree of hope for this world.

Image Credit: Clare Hawley


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