McKenzie-Battye-Smith,-Elektra-Spencer,-Holly-Ross-and -Jemma-Collins-in-Normal-photo-by-Images-InstantlyKatie Pollock’s AWGIE nominated play, Normal, deals with the plight of Poppy, a young woman stricken with a Tourette’s-like condition, who struggles for understanding and acceptance from those with whom she comes in contact in her daily life.

The play traces Poppy’s experience from the moment her best friend notices a tell-tale symptom. As her symptoms become increasingly severe, those surrounding Poppy begin to isolate her, withdrawing support and even accusing her of faking her symptoms to gain attention.

Canberra Youth Theatre has given the play a polished, stripped back production, firmly and imaginatively directed by Luke Rogers.

Gillian Schwab’s, sparse, sophisticated setting with its central raked stage and large suspended overhead screen, provided a starkly clinical atmosphere, which was emphasised by her moody lighting, and complimented by Kimmo Vennonen’s evocative sound design.

However, though attractive, the absence of furniture or props to provide clues to time and place meant that the actors were totally exposed. As Poppy, Holly Ross was riveting in a role that required her to be on stage for almost the entire performance, portraying the distressing tic and wide range of emotions with convincing sincerity.

Jemma Collins, McKenzie Battye-Smith, and Electra Spencer, shared all the other roles, among them, Holly’s mother, her friend and her friend’ mother, a psychiatrist, a school councillor, a television reporter and a shop assistant.

The task of portraying a wide range of different characters demanded significant emotional range and acting technique from the young actors, and while all three gave commendably strong, committed performances, they were not always up to these demands.

Therefore as the severity of Holly’s symptoms increased, and her reactions began to isolate her from her worried mother, her friends and health professionals, provided with only minimalistic changes of costume to differentiate characters, it became difficult to follow the thread of the storyline, and maintain connection with the characters, because so much essential information was lost through insufficient vocal projection and imprecise articulation.

Therefore when the final denouement was reached, with all characters exhibiting Poppy’s symptoms, apparently confirming accusations that her condition was more mental than physical, it was both puzzling and shocking.

The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Friday 23 October 2020
Season: 22 – 24 October 2020

Image: McKenzie Battye-Smith, Elektra Spencer, Holly Ross and Jemma Collins in Normal – photo by Images Instantly

Review: Bill Stephens OAM