Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A surreal drama about class and turning fortunes
In an upper-middle-class home in Fitzroy, a family prepares for Christmas. Everything seems picture-perfect: the house is clean and welcoming, all the family members have come together in the parental home and everyone's (mostly) getting along, and presents have been arranged under the tree. Well, around the tree. The tree is ridiculously small, and Mother insists that Father go out and get them a real tree. Father seems hesitant about spending money, Mother wants to spend like there's no tomorrow. We slowly begin to identify the little metaphors and hints that point to the elephant in the room - everyone is in real financial trouble, but no one's admitting it, and none of their proposed solutions are compatible with each other's reality.
Emily Goddard and Chanella Macri in Australian Realness. Image credit: Pia Johnson.
Australian Realness by Zoey Dawson is a thought-provoking, technically impressive, and surreal drama about family, class, conflict, and turning fortunes. It's a show that starts out with an elaborate set, distinct characters, and the use of well-known dramatic styles and techniques, lulling the audience into a sense of comfort and familiarity, and then proceeds to self-destruct, descending into a disorienting, dystopic nightmare of sorts. It literally and figuratively turns itself inside out, and despite having set up initial expectations of a straightforward comedy, leaves the audience with a sense of dread, futility, and a complete lack of closure.
The cast - Linda Cropper, Andre de Vanny, Emily Goddard, Chanella Macri and Greg Stone - all bring their characters to life in uniquely powerful ways, especially Cropper and Stone in their double roles as Mum/Kerry Hogan and Dad/Gary Hogan. De Vanny has his moments where he owns the stage especially in his role as Jason Hogan. Macri has a powerful stage presence, and persuasively pulls off a difficult character, the one that causes the world (as the show depicts it) to dismantle itself and disintegrate as if it never existed. Goddard is the only actor in this show who stays in the same role from beginning to end. Her character starts out as a sweet, relatively innocuous pregnant woman who wants her and her partner (Macri) to move into her parents' Fitzroy home for a while, to have financial help while raising their child. Her character turns out to be pivotal in the play and is ultimately the audience's only substantial thread of continuity that connects the beginning with the end. She has some truly haunting scenes towards the end, where the impact of a world turned inside out zeroes in on this one person, an artist who once exhibited unnamed others through her work, and is now herself on display in similar ignoble fashion.
Australian Realness is not a light or easy show, although the first half certainly sets up expectations that it might be. It is a show that sets up ideas and tears them to shreds, builds up worlds and then flattens them. It's a show that is about many things depicted in many ways, and ultimately requires its audience to decide what they will focus on, and draw their own conclusions. In that sense, its running theme of artists, artwork and audiences will resonate with viewers - there is often a world of difference between what is, what is shown, and what is understood. What is left in the end is simply ideas and what we choose to do with them.