Hold is the debut solo production of Madeleine Little, performed at La Boite's Roundhouse Theatre. A thoughtful, quirky production, Hold gives a glimpse into the mind of a young woman trying to navigate a safe path through a series of doomed relationships. The beginning of the play introduces Maddie, portrayed by Little (who also wrote and directed the show) and her friends to the audience, and from there delves into an hour-long introspective on relationships both platonic and romantic in an earnest exploration of the importance of human contact.
Adel Greedy is introduced as Vogel, who will be translating most of the dialogue of the play into Auslan signs. And that's all. Her character is an odd one; given that at points throughout the show the actors lean on if not clean break the fourth wall, it is difficult to decide whether Vogel is a real character in the play or a theatrical device to increase the accessibility of the show. In either case, Greedy's performance was strong, fading into the background when the spotlight needed to be taken by others and offering emotionally charged facial expressions to compliment her signing as required – though you couldn't help but think that it would have been stronger if Vogel had either been fleshed out as a character or made more explicitly a physical expression of artistic license.
Racheal Missingham's Tonya will be many audience member's first experience of a deaf actor on stage and she sets the bar quite high. From her first introduction, she offers a naturalistic portrayal of a more conservative character, providing a contrast to the free-spirited Maddie and Rosie. While the sub-plot about Tonya's dramas at work feels a little tacked-on, her character doesn't. Tonya's argument with Maddie about rejection and responsibility is one of the highlights of the play. It's a real, blistering dialogue between two familiar, believable personalities and helps to cement Tonya as her own character and one of the driving forces behind Maddie's personal growth – not just a token character with a disability.
Myra Turner's Rosie offers comic relief and a foil to Maddie in the form of the classic slutty friend. While Tonya and Maddie work through internal struggles over the course of the show, Rosie seems to slide effortlessly through boys, enjoying the ride while it lasts and then moving easily onto the next. Turner's performance is sassy and full of life, bringing a vibrancy to the character and allowing for some interesting and entertaining exchanges with the other girls.
Amidst all this, Little's Maddie (described by the writer/director/actor as "essentially…a heightened version of [her]self") is a warm, open figure that welcomes the audience easily into her world. Little's strong stage presence carries a confident portrayal of a not-always-confident young woman. Little seems to revel in the informal, salt of the earth nature of her character; bouncing her banter back and forth between the actors on stage and any audience member unlucky enough to catch her eye. Maddie describes many feelings and experiences that will feel familiar to anyone who has ever been young, framed and explored through the unique lens of her personal circumstance. Despite the relaxed nature of the character, Maddie manages to reach some surprisingly adroit observations about love and self-love in between sharing mojitos with her friends and jokes with the audience.
The show utilizes a unique technological set-up that is part artistic choice and part audiovisual aid for those with hearing and sight impairments – a backdrop onto which all the dialogue is projected combined with a voice-over that intones both select stage directions and lines from the script; interacting with the cast members in fourth-wall breaking and often rib-tickling back-and-forth. While an interesting creative decision that managed to add value to the production at times, the usage of these elements could not quite be described as a triumph. Not only was it unfortunately and immediately obvious whenever a cast member deviated from the script, but the projection itself contained several grammatical errors that worked to distract from the performances onstage. Rosie's delivery of her poem is one moment that would have felt much stronger had the audience not been able to read ahead – there was some dramatic tension lost in the timing of the subtitling.
Dramaturgically speaking – to unironically quote the ironic line in the play – the piece is sound. The script is quite linear as it takes us through several of the girls' meet ups, neatly interweaves exposition into naturalistic dialogue, interspersed with excerpts of poetry. Little's set and direction is minimalistic; four chairs and two tables, girls enter, girls speak, girls exit, lights up, spotlight, lights down. This leaves the focus on the girls themselves and the words of the script – both of which are presented front and centre, audio and visual, loud and proud. The entire production is a rowdy, honest romp that provides plenty of laughs to cushion the blow of the more tender and vulnerable moments. Little has managed to create a piece of theatre that is both enjoyable and introspective that stands on its own artistic merits as well as opening the door for important conversations to be had around inclusivity and access within Australian theatre.