There’s a scene in an episode of The Young Ones where Neil is in the backyard digging. He pushes his spade into the dirt and we follow the edge of the tool as it breaks into an underground world where nothing boring happens. The problem for the King and Queen, however, is that because the bedlam and cacophony that surrounds them is never-ending, they’ve grown rather numb and bored to it.
Not that this is a specific difficulty with My Dearworthy Darling, but there was something oppressive about its ability to blast yet meander simultaneously.
The work is both a celebration of the writing of Margery Kempe and an exploration of the erosion and breakdown of the relationships between three characters. Lead by Jennifer Vuletic, backed up by Natalie Gamsu and Ben Grant, and supported further by a mythic chorus, the work plays loose with any narrative concerns.
Rather, as playwright Alison Croggon describes how the work developed, the show performs as a slam poem by way of the 14th Century, with the stylistic features of the body – the sound of words, the shape and speed of physicality – pushed to the foreground, while the literal takes a step back.
Elements of the design were stunning: The live distortion of turning Ben Grant’s vocals into what you would hear at the end of a phone and how that created such a palpable sense of distance despite sharing the small Beckett Theatre stage; Director Kate Davis’ stark black-plastic-wrapped set and its eventual transformation; the offer made by Jennifer in the final moments.
But, then there were other elements that felt less focussed, such as the running Middle English scoreboard (I assume quotes from Margery Kempe) that felt more like outtakes from the Chaucer Doth Tweet Twitter account, or the nudity, which seemed thematically heavy-handed (then again, The Temple may have spoiled the use of nudity as a device at the Malthouse for everyone).
Some poems are for performance, others are more insular and personal. Was there sound? Plenty. Fury? I guess. Ultimately, the piece lacked some of the risk and razor focus of previous The Rabble’s work such as their extraordinary Joan. But did My Dearworthy Darling challenge? Absolutely!
My Dearworthy Darling
Beckett Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Wednesday 7 August 2019 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 18 August 2019
Information and Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au
Image: Jennifer Vuletic in My Dearworthy Darling – photo by David Paterson
Review: David Collins