NUTSHELL: This is the most wonderful show - deeply moving, hysterically funny, and a twist that takes you to the darkest of places before returning you to the light.
The show opens with the lights coming up on a dark and simple set with a cot, a coast, and the sound of a baby crying and a woman moaning. It suddenly stops. ‘It’s alright,’ beams the winsome and slightly gauche Tina, ‘It’s only a dream’. A recurrent nightmare, more like. Tina, one of many characters played by Lisa Brickell, has managed to successfully avoid the baby conversation for decades when her boyfriend surprises her with the confession that he wants to have kids. And not just one, but lots. He is opening a can of worms and she doesn’t handle it well. Women raising the subject of babies are aware that their lovers may run to the hills at the prospect – that sort of reaction from a woman comes to him as a surprise. What he doesn’t know, and Tina can’t say, is that she has a family history not conducive to parenthood; her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother all suffered from terrible postnatal depression. Tina’s very real terror that she may fall into madness herself is stoked by an old ‘auntie’ who takes a perverse pleasure in recounting her mother’s and grandmother’s failures. If she is to go forward, she has to confront her family’s past.
This could have been a grim story in the vein of Janet Frame or The Hours, but Lecoq-trained Brickell is a natural clown and plays all her characters with a mix of earnestness and humour. She is ably supported by deadpan musician, actor, and singer Sarah Macombee, who provides a musical accompaniment on the keyboard. There is a great connection between the two performers, one sings a fragment that introduces new characters that the other picks up, creating an atmospheric linking between the scenes. Also interspersed are old recordings of the music of the era. Well, sort of the era. Her grandmother met her husband in 1932 so it seems unlikely they were dancing to Glen Miller or singing Amore during their courtship, but not to worry.
If some moments are terribly sad, some are hysterically funny. I loved it when Tina’s mother has managed to escape home and moves to a commune in Coromandel to get high. There is an element of AbFab’s Patsy and Edina in Macombee and Brickell bouncing off each other beatifically, while the long-suffering Doug does all the hard work keeping the chooks off the conversation pit.
The script is witty, well-observed, and well-performed – Brickell and Macombee comfortably slip in and out of character, likeable or otherwise – and the exploration of the subject is as compassionate as it is wise. Brickell does not condemn the characters involved nor overdramatise their suffering, but simply shows them trying their best in the most difficult of circumstances. It is shocking enough. By this approach, and directly talking to them, she includes her audience rather than fighting with them and presents a denouement that offers hope rather than revenges. When one audience member drops a glass, Brickell instructs an imaginary character to tidy it up. Many theatre productions hope to break down taboos around mental health, I think that here they succeed, and they cannot be praised highly enough. For anyone who has been or known a mother who needed support and didn’t get it, this play will resonate. Highly recommended.
One night only at Te Pou theatre, October 12. Get tickets here.