Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Contemporary and medieval worlds collide
My Dearworthy Darling (written by Alison Croggon, directed and designed by The Rabble) is an abstract, poetic, and intense show that brings together stories of contemporary gaslighting and medieval mysticism in one woman's turbulent journey towards self-discovery and self-acceptance.
The protagonist (Jennifer Vuletic) is a woman unhappily trapped between the show's villains: her narcissistic husband (Ben Grant) and resentful sister (Natalie Gamsu). They both commiserate with each other over their respective grievances and bond over their toxicity towards their common target. The protagonist is incessantly attacked over incidents from her childhood, the present state of her mental health, and her perceived lack of normalcy. However, she isn't the weak and deranged character they make her out to be, and she finds strength within herself (and with the help of medieval texts and the support of a cloaked mystical chorus) to separate herself from what would hold her down, and to start over, powered by self-acceptance.
My Dearworthy Darling is a text-heavy and at times sensorily abrasive show, and requires its audience to work hard to stay immersed. There's intellectual substance and emotional intensity in the poetry, but it isn't always readily digestible, especially in parts where the lighting and sound seem determined to drown out the text. The soundscape is intentionally disturbing, effective in drawing attention to the protagonist's emotional experience, but perhaps at the cost of emotional and sensory respite for the audience. The set has some striking elements and is used in technically impressive ways on a few occasions, but on the whole, does not significantly help draw the audience into the scenes as they unfold.
Vuletic is exceptional in her skilful portrayal of the protagonist, a challenging role, given the thematic seriousness and abstract poetry of the text. Grant and Gamsu deliver effective performances in their respective roles, but seem somewhat limited by the script and direction. Their characters hold promise for nuance and three-dimensionality, but are never fully developed and are ultimately reduced to caricatured villains on account of the emphasis on the protagonist's point of view. The chorus, likewise, feels underdeveloped/underused, and does not convincingly present a distinct identity and purpose, apart from enabling the protagonist's smooth transition from her contemporary, real-world place earlier on in the play to her final, inner-world peak by the end.
By the end of the show, where Vuletic is truly stunning with her powerful singing and impressive vocal range, the show is no longer about the story it began with. The protagonist's husband and sister have long disappeared, and what we are left with now is the protagonist on her own, sans context, sans limitations, nothing binding her any longer as she stands unclothed: physically, emotionally and spiritually liberated from anything that might formerly have had a hold over her. This, perhaps, is simultaneously the most abstract and the most real moment in the show, where the physical, intellectual, emotional and sensory trajectories finally converge in a place of clarity and rest.