Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Stop Girl

Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir present STOP GIRL, by Sally Sara in the Belvoir Street Theatre Upstairs. 20th March - 25th April, 2021.

STOP GIRL, is a new Australian play, by a Wakley-award winning journalist for the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), Sally Sara. It is her first play and it tackles the story of Suzie who is a journalist working in the world conflict hot spots of Afghanistan, Iraq etc. Suzie could be a doppelgänger of the writer.

On a Set by Robert Cousins, that is virtually an open space with 'symbolic' objects that serve the utilitarian requirements of the action of the 90-minute play without interval, has on the back wall a large screen that facilitates video support for showing images of suffering and the atrocities of war, of the ordinary people of those war torn locations. The images display action that Suzie (Sheridan Harbridge) and a friend and fellow journalist Bec (Amber Mc Mahon), experience while preparing a story on Suzie's career for a Sydney magazine, together - Suzie responds to the present dangers of war shown in images accompanied by a penetrating soundscape, with the coolness of the oblivion of the familiar whilst Bec, in her virgin state, responds with horror and true fear. 

Both women return to Australia to live their lives in the safety of that country. Images continue to appear on the screen accompanied by the sound intrusions, but now they are exclusively those of memory for Suzie (and a storytelling gesture for us, the audience). Bec is in contrast divorced from her solo experience of being in a war zone, comfortable with the environs of Sydney, home, and becomes puzzled by Suzie's disintegrating behaviour.

Other contrasting reactions are given via Atal (Mansoor Noor), an aide of Suzie's in war, who now has, as a refugee, brought his family to Australia and reflects, gratefully, the 'oddness' and stress of accommodating to that, in contrast to Suzie's carefree responses to the same familiar Australian occurrences; and, more significantly, the personal dialogues between Suzie and her Mother, Marg (Toni Scanlon). This relationship becomes is the pivot of the play and gradually blends the traumas of war with the traumas of ordinary family life, with Suzie's accumulating paralyzing sense of guilt at her absence of presence during the family's crises, culminating with her sense of guilt over the death of her father and her inability, so far, in dealing with his wishes, his ashes. The play suggests that her father's ashes spread will unblock some of Suzie's mental health issues.

This play brings to the audience a confronting case of Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD), made all the more confronting because it is written by a well-acknowledged 'daughter' of our community who has served us as a television journalist in places of conflict around the world over a long career. Sally Sara, has become a member of all our 'families'. This play is stressful in its distant war revelations, but becomes a truly poignant piece of common grief when Suzie's story touches the personal element of what it is to be human, with the death of her father and the dealing with his wishes. It is something which we all must go through.

For me, this production was pleasing especially because most of the actors featured in the event of telling the story are actors who have worked regularly and consistently of quality in the outer fringe of the Sydney acting scene, and I was grateful to see Deborah Galanos (psychiartrist) on a main stage; Mansoor Noor in his usual intelligent, flawless and engaging reveal of the Afghan, Atal; and Toni Scanlon giving a great support with both true comic and dramatic sensibilities as the mother, Marg to the protagonist of the play. All three of these actors are deserving of this opportunity given by the Belvoir Company and Anne-Lousie Sarks, the Director. These actors are welcome on this main stage and have, honestly, earned their 'stripes' to be there. Amber McMahon is a regular on this stage and gives sterling support to the play's dramaturgical responsibilities demanded of her. 

Sheridan Harbridge after many years of hard quality work in the fringes of the Sydney Theatre has begun to emerge into focus on our main stages after many years. On the Belvoir stage, THE SUGAR HOUSE*** and the musical CALAMITY JANE***, demonstrating her talented range of versatility in Dramatic work and Comic, which was significantly brought into devastating focus in the recent Griffin production of Suzie Miller's one person play PRIME FACIE*** (which will be reprised at the Seymour Centre, later this year - not to be missed). As in PRIME FACIE, Ms Harbridge takes on a confrontational journey of character as Suzie in STOP GIRL, one that demands an incredible emotional commitment that in actor's parlance and knowledge is a 'risky' and 'scary' one. The performance that Ms Harbridge gave here (at my sitting) was powerful but lacked a consistent depth of 'risk', there were times when one felt that the actor was skimming over the top of the need of the characterisation and so, was 'in and out' of the depth of the demands of the writer. The performance work was impressive but sometimes, relatively, shallow, a 'cheat' of the depth of emotional need. The tragedy of the play 'glowed' rather than 'glowered'. 

The audience I was with were generously affected and gave warm applause at the curtain call.

STOP GIRL is an arresting first play dealing with an issue that needs urgent social and political attention .

N.B. Check out MUM, ME AND THE I.E.D*** another devastating account of PTSD in our returning warriors of war.

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