Canberra audiences are fortunate to be among the first to experience Griffin Theatre’s delightful production of Eloise Snape’s debut play, Pony, following its sell-out season in Sydney.

Don’t be put off by the poster of a heavily pregnant woman and the description, “Hazel is no angel. In fact, she’s a delusional, reality TV-obsessed fantasist who swears like a sailor and has a fondness for greased-up male strippers”.

As personified in a tour-de-force performance by Briallen Clarke, Hazel is a more more complex and multi-faceted character than this description would suggest.

On a stage dominated by a huge pink merry go round pony, the significance of which becomes apparent as the play progresses, backed by a glittering reflective backdrop, and costumed in a velvet rhinestone cowboy suit, Clarke provides a wildly funny, heart-warming glimpse into the life of an engaging, deeply flawed, 37 year-old named Hazel, who’s struggling to keep up with the expectations of society to be a super-woman.

Supported by clever lighting design, atmospheric soundscape, and Anthea Williams’ constantly inventive direction, Clarke creates an engaging central character in Hazel, then, with admirable economy, surrounds her with a whole collection of hilarious but thoroughly recognisable characters as Hazel recounts the story of her pathway to pregnancy.

Among those characters is the host of Rhyme Time, Mrs Twinkles, whose rhyme “round and round” becomes a recurring motif throughout the play. There’s also Liv, Hazel’s long-suffering bestie; Trish, the fearsome midwife who runs relaxation classes; Patrick, her supportive husband and her much loved Nanna, who’s fond of whisky and dispensing down-to-earth advice.

Sure, Hazel’s language can be coarse, and at times terrifyingly descriptive, but it feels appropriate for the character and the situations in which she discovers herself. Indeed her descriptions of the birth of her child are so graphic as to give cause for pause for any expectant mothers in the audience, even though the information may be enlightening for their partners.

However, Clarke’s tour-de-force performance is so refreshingly positive, hilariously funny, and at times surprisingly moving, that when the audience finally arrive at the end of Hazel’s journey the only appropriate response seems to be – an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Courtyard Studio – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Thursday 22 June 2023
Season continues to 1 July 2023
Information and Bookings: www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

Image: Briallen Clarke – photo by Brett Boardman

Review: Bill Stephens OAM