The Binding by Martha Loader aims to be “a present day exploration of the emancipation of woman from the home that considers how far we’ve come since Ibsen’s A Doll’s House”. It seems this is not far, and maybe even backwards. But then, it’s not all that clear where the piece is heading.
Annie (Tehya Nicholas) is in her mid-twenties and pursuing a masters degree in literature. Her partner Cam (Shane Fox Neville) has a good job and aspirations for them to move into a home and start decorating on credit. Annie’s older sister Saffi (Jem Nicholas) has had a plan for marriage and children since age 10, only some man is required soon to help her keep to schedule. As confidante, Esme (Emily Nasr) is concerned by how Annie deals with frustrations around the way her life is unfolding.
Unfortunately, simplistic attitudes of the characters cost them credibility. With widened eyes Saffi propels at Annie some conservative dogma that the whole point of being in a couple is to have kids, and to not is selfish. On a planet of 7 billion people! Neville at least is believable in wanting to have a family to care for, even if his ability to plan ahead and willingness to take on further debt is a bit hard to swallow in this climate.
Nasr is capable as a concerned friend in a limited role. The script suffers from not giving her the opportunity to exploit the obligation and privilege of her position. Some gentle questioning rather than scolding would have helped us to better understand what’s going on in Annie‘s head.
Annie’s allusions to Sylvia Plath and edging towards death to obtain some sense of clarity seem dotted around without a strong sense of connection. When the chance comes along for her to have a `Nora moment’ as in The Doll’s House, it looks like a freak-out with pretentious referencing, rather than an exercise in self-assertion.
Maybe I would have gotten more out of this if I didn’t find aspects of the production so distracting. The Binding was staged with seats arranged in a square, so I spent an unusually large amount of time looking at the backs of heads. Perhaps to compensate for this, the direction of Ruben Allender Clark had characters regularly moving around the stage for little purpose. This made conversations look quite artificial.
The Binding was an OK night at the theatre. By trying to be a comedy and a drama with a touch of near-death experience mysticism it was trying to do far too much in 55 minutes. Revealing more of Annie’s inner world might clear up some of the murkiness of the metaphors employed and make the piece feel more cohesive.
The Owl and Cat Theatre, 34 Swan Street, Richmond
Performance: Thursday 24 February 2016
Season continues to 5 March 2016
Information and Bookings: www.owlandcat.com.au
Image: The Binding (supplied)
Review: Jason Whyte