The Almighty Sometimes

Anna (Brenna Harding) has been taking medication since she developed an unnamed mental illness as a child. Now 18, she is ‘balanced’ and excitedly making plans for the future. She wants to discover exactly how her medication is affecting her, and whether it is stifling her creativity.

Her psychologist Vivienne (Penny Cook) assures us that it is good that Anna seeks the things 18 year olds often want. To have fun, to experiment, to travel, and to find independence. Is Anna a creative genius? A prodigy? Or is she on a path to destruction? This tension will hold you until the powerful final image.

Anna’s mother, Renee (Hannah Waterman), faces the difficult internal struggle that many parents face  -whether or not to medicate a child. This is surely one of the defining questions of our time. We know that in many cases medication has saved the lives of children, or helped to improve their quality of life. And yet Renee harbours the uneasy feeling that she is responsible for starting Anna down a path of no return.

Oliver, Anna’s boyfriend (Shiv Palekar), protests about the way in which he has been moved into a carer role, when he has already spent his childhood caring for people who were supposed to be looking after him. It’s a beautiful articulation of the confusion people may feel when the appearance of mental illness suddenly recasts them from lover or child to care giver. Oliver wonders what his level of culpability is, and where his own needs fit into this startling new narrative.

This was an evening full of gut wrenchingly honest and brave performances. The sort that draw standing ovations. Brenna Harding, who I recognised from The Black Mirror, takes the audience with her on her journey from manic highs to devastating lows. She delivers this challenging performance with a kind of charming playfulness which makes traversing difficult terrain with her enjoyable.

The set design by Dan Potra is beautifully simple. I usually like a detailed set, which takes its inspiration from the text, but in this case the simple design very effectively evoked the inside of an asylum cell. Brilliant direction from Lee Lewis kept the pace fast. There wasn’t a wasted moment. I was not aware of the time passing – perfect suspension of disbelief.

It’s very assured writing from Kendall Feaver: unflinching. You are a deer staring into her headlight. She is going to make her point in her own time, and she doesn’t let you off the hook until she has thoroughly explored her topic. You can buy the program and script at the door for $15. I like coming away from an evening at the theatre with the script in hand. It’s like discovering the person behind the curtain is a wizard after all.

I anticipate people will be talking about this production for a long time primarily because it sets its sights on a subject matter, and remorselessly investigates that area until it uncovers its prize. It has that wonderful quality of feeling like it is drawn from real life with the result that I had the impression I was really learning about the human condition, really sharing in someone’s truth.

The Almighty Sometimes
SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Performance: Friday 3 August 2018
Season continues to 8 September 2018
Information and Bookings: www.griffintheatre.com.au

Image: Penny Cook (Vivienne) and Brenna Harding (Anna) in The Almighty Sometimes – photo by Brett Boardman

Review: Oliver Wakelin

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