Slipping from her hessian amniotic sac, Runt claws free under low yellow light and eventually makes it to her feet in unsteady fashion. Early on she describes how she is the last in a long line of offspring, the titular runt of the litter.
Over the course of an incredibly compelling act, we follow her story of her difficult life and how – despite her actions, wants, traumas, and dreams – she is never able to escape the literal circle of poverty, violence, and abuse she has been brought into.
Designer Romanie Harper has Runt enclosed within a short, circular bench. It’s sat on, run on, crawled, slid, and stepped around on, but never stepped out of. Coupled with Jenny Hector’s evocative lighting design, there’s an initial feel of a gallery style operating theatre, which kind of feels appropriate considering the autopsy being witnessed as Runt exposes more of herself.
However, as the play progresses, and especially since this audience persists in laughing too hard at the merest hint of levity, or worse – just because Runt speaks strangely? – when she describes being subject to physical and sexual violence – you can’t help but wonder if part of the engine of Patricia Cornelius’ remarkable script is that on some level we’re the ones having our insides examined and the limits of our empathy laid bare.
Nicci Wilks is unrelenting in her extraordinary performance as Runt. You could put a thesaurus in a hydraulic press and still not squeeze out enough superlatives to describe the physical and emotional commitment on display. And yet, for all her histrionics and staccato-ish speech and movement you’re only ever drawn into the story she’s telling.
Helping to support and drive that story is Kelly Ryall’s stirring (not to mention often unsettling) work composing the music and sonic landscape that’s just as haunting as the action playing out in the ring-shaped set in front of us.
Director Susie Dee, Wilks, and Cornelius, along with their creative team have forged a stunning piece of theatre that shouldn’t be missed.
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 27 February 2021
Season continues to 7 March 2021 (sold out – waitlist maybe available)
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com
Image: Nicci Wilks stars in RUNT – photo by Pier Carthew
Review: David Collins