All of the show’s darkness, curiosities, and grace are borne from a simple setup: a single chair, a small table, a glass of water. Regulars to fortyfivedownstairs will be struck by the side windows uncovered. Everything feels unassuming, and sure enough Jillian approaches the space more wandering than arrival. She’s holding a copy of Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which she puts down, turning to speak to us with all the effortlessness of a thought that just occurred to her.
Joan Didion wrote her book after losing her husband suddenly one night. Later, she would lose her daughter to illness. The book isn’t so much a meditation on grief as it is on her grief, and the twisted road she looked back on as she reflected on what it meant to crawl out of and then live with such unimaginable loss.
Joan herself adapted the book for the stage and its beautiful writing. Whether a reader or attending a play, an audience learns about a character from what they observe and how they observe it. It’s thus incredibly compelling, yet utterly tragic, how Joan describes her belief that she might rescue those she lost, as well as herself, through her command of language itself; that a straightforward change of words, or time zone, might change her situation.
There’s a wonderful sense of misdirection employed at first, Jillian announcing who she is and what she’s here to do. With Director, Laurence Strangio, she creates an illusion of little to no artifice slipping into Joan’s words as easy as a breath. It’s an excellent reminder of how few tools are necessary for great storytelling. Indeed, one the qualities of Jillian’s brilliant performance is how uncomplicated it appears.
When the darkness literally comes in, it does so from the periphery thanks to Andy Turner’s lighting design. So too, do the sounds Joan remembers impress themselves from outside the space, such as the wash of the sea on the beach, or other pieces of audio and music courtesy of designer, Darius Kedros. There is care and craft in abundance and it was a privilege to watch.
The Year of Magical Thinking
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Saturday 2 November 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 17 November 2019
Information and Bookings: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com.au
Image: Jillian Murray stars in The Year of Magical Thinking – photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Review: David Collins