Review By Tessa Stickland
Where There’s a Will is a drama comedy play held at the illustrious La Mama Theatre (at their headquarters theatre on Faraday St in Carlton).
There was a general buzz and excitement from the crowd while waiting to enter.
It was my first time at La Mama HQ since the fire of 2018 that burnt everything except the brick facade. The outside area and box office feel fantastic. There is enough of the old La Mama DNA, while feeling fresh and new and nice. It’s less grungy, but not lacking spirit. Plus, the facilities are nicer, and seems to have more disability access.
The inside of the theatre feels exactly the same. I suppose that’s not hard, considering it’s a black box with a staircase. But still… It felt like coming back to something familiar.
In this familiar but new space, a new but familiar story was told; that of three middle-aged sisters and their dying mother. A story of intergenerational trauma, family disputes, and a battle of wills.
You might be thinking, “Hey, isn’t this a Melbourne International Comedy Festival Show? That doesn’t sound… all that funny…”
Frankly, I don’t think this show fits within the scope of MICF.
Does it have funny moments? Yes. Is there some great dark humour? Yes.
But humour isn’t at the heart of this play. At least not for me. It feels more like a drama with comedic moments, rather than a comedy-drama.
The general reactions of the rest of the audience seemed to align with my thoughts (i.e. they weren’t laughing at times I wasn’t). Admittedly, I’m not in their heads, so I could be wrong there.
That being said, it’s still an engaging play. The audience was clearly immersed in the story.
Reviewing this as a piece of theatre – not looking at it in the context of MICF – it’s quite good. All of the actors give a convincing performance. So much so that some of the characters really annoyed me (so job well done!).
From lighting to sound to the blocking and direction of the performers: it’s a solid show.
However, I had a hard time with it. It was interesting. But I don’t think I enjoyed it. From a technical standpoint, I can't identify anything wrong with the show. So it's all to do with me.
Most importantly, I don't think I’m the intended audience. I'm too young and haven't gone through the experiences portrayed. I don't have kids. I haven't had a parent die. And I have a very good relationship with my brother.
I'm not saying you have to have directly experienced something to relate to it in art. But I'm disconnected from this show in a few too many places.
I relate to this story through what I've witnessed in others: through my extended family and my parent's childhood trauma; and through working at a funeral home for 5 years.
I've seen versions of this dysfunction and in-fighting play out time and time again.
The sisters and their mother are played with an element of caricature, but despite this (or maybe because of it) they're incredibly realistic portrayals. The reality of grief is that it accentuates everyone's behaviours (the good and the bad). Grieving people are often drama queens. Every family fight is dragged to the surface. Every emotion is heightened (and so are the stakes).
Where There's a Will displays this very accurately. Their success in that is probably what annoys me. It brings me back to the stress of working in funerals and dealing with these people.
(I should say, not all families were bad. Most were actually wonderful to work with. But the intense ones stand out in my mind.)
I saw the dark humour in this type of tragedy years ago. Because I've seen it in real life so many times I'm either desensitised from it or bored by it.
But I'm the odd one out here. I've thought about this and seen this story much more than the average person.
I think you’ll enjoy Where There’s a Will if you have siblings and are going through/have gone through the process of organising your parents affairs. If you’re middle-aged (or older), if you've got adult children, or if you've got a complicated relationship with your family (though that's everyone) – there's something in this visceral performance for you.