|Photo by Mansoor Noor|
Joanna Erskine, Eloise Snape and Samantha Young (co-Producers) present AIR, by Joanna Erskine, at The Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 13 June - 30 June.
AIR, is a new Australian play, by Joanna Erskine.
In a Community Radio station (2RIP - Ms Erskine's comic sensibility is signalled there!) Annabel hosts a program that reads the listed Obituary's of the Day to assist those who are reading impaired - this is a reality to be heard at 8.45am on 2RPH - 1224Am or 100.5FM, that Ms Erskine noted and took as her starting point for this wonderful adventure, exploration.
This play is about grief. Grief begins as a solitary experience. But then, gradually, we discover that we are not alone because we all have grief, and we will all be grieved, one way or another. Grief doesn't adhere to the notion that the further you are away from it the less you will feel it. Rather, it is something that you carry within you at all times. Grief may recede, but at any moment it can make itself known with astounding immediacy.
In an antiquated and run-down radio studio, one evening, Annabel reads a reference to a popular song in one of the death notices and a memory is triggered for her and a reality of twenty-three years of suppressed grieving makes it self felt. A grief is cracked open. With this trigger/crack Annabel conjures her listeners, her relatives, the living and the dead and, consequently, comes to a night of confrontation, where her deliberate isolation from life is challenged.
Ms Erskine takes us on a surreal experience that is as often as hilarious as it is terribly moving. I found myself laughing out loud a lot and yet experiencing a strangely familiar and in-depth emotional connection, over and over again. The weirdness of the logics of the play are superfluous to argument when one embraces the journey - it is a bit like just joining in on one of my favourite Woody Allen films, ALICE, starring Mia Farrow (1990), where a herbalist induces invisibility and the ability of flight for the principal figure to be able to be awakened to the realities of her life. Surrender to the journey and the contemplations are surprisingly healthful.
In a one 100-minute act, Director Anthony Skuse, has built a delicate framework and pathway for the unwinding of Ms Erskine's fantasia, 'confession', self-revelation and provocation. Mr Skuse is in top form, again, at last. The mood shifts are handled with tempo changes expertly timed and with an apt Soundtrack (Sound Design, by Benjamin Freeman), that seduces and triggers personal moments for its audience, encouraging us into endowing and contributing to the construct of the play with imaginative personal identification - it is an effortless act when one surrenders to the plotting of AIR and its twists and turns. The comedy is audacious in its off-centred intrusions, offsetting and balancing with tremendous skill the possible 'melodrama' of it all. The Set Design, of a moveable table, stacked with the paraphernalia of a shoe-string budgeted radio studio, is deceptively simple in keeping the story fluid and forward actioned, warmly bathed in the Lighting Design from Sophie Pekbilimli.
As well, Mr Skuse has drawn from all his actors a consistent sincerity and belief in all those 'crazy' twists and turns of the writer's scenario. Eloise Snape, as Annabel, is at the centre of the play and gives the best performance I have seen her give. It is grounded in a calm, beautifully observed and controlled naturalism with a quirky sense of humour that is endearing and absolutely central to the success of this production. Its eloquence is so compassionate and so gently respectful of the audience, that we can only give-in and travel with her. Around her the other actors can successfully spin, mostly, the dimensional needs that the characters, created by Ms Erskine, exude, seemingly as rational and 'real' personas as any drama should need. John Dean (Tel Benjamin), is a late-blooming, slightly emotionally retarded, romantic; Mabel (Diana McLean), a married partner that schemes murder in the fraughtness of her long-standing relationship; Susan (Suzanne Pereira), the grounded and 'real' sister in grief, coping with the Hardy family's dilemmas; and Kevin Hardy (David Lynch), the spirit at the centre of Annabel's tear in life with her family.
AIR, with the ingredients of a comedy of the absurd, a family drama of soap opera proportions, and a spiritual mixture of good sense, are all mixed and shaken for a richly rewarding night/cocktail in the theatre that can give your soul a glimpse into the ordinary and essential biological process, death, and the consequent natural tussle with grief, that all of us will have, that really is a normality for every living being, whether it is for a human or a budgie, or the memory of a barking dog! We learn we can invite others in, we are not unique in grief, there should be no guilt, no shame, and together, we can deal with it and find some reward of possible hope. For some, the relief can be soon, or, as in the case of our Annabel twenty-three years later.
This is an Australian play with a rare sensibility of emotional maturity: prepared to look at a 'taboo' of our culture with an open, experienced intelligence and a sense of humour that is not a piss-take, but a generous openness. Thanks to Joanna Erskine and the Company for sharing with such compassion.
Get your skates on, and go to The Old 505. Worth it.