the nest ensemble & Metro Arts Independents
Metro Arts’ Sue Benner Theatre
9th – 26th May
the nest ensemble’s EVE opened last night at Metro Arts and today the social media is all a-flutter over it!
EVE is a work of incredible passion, delving into the notions of obsession, genius and madness. It’s a fascinating, devastating story about an Australian writer who we like to call our own Virginia Woolf, one Eve Langley (1908 – 1974). It’s intense and even, at times, a little bit delightful. A rare show, it induces more than most, the magic of genuinely mixed emotions and a sense of bewilderment. Margi Brown Ash, who plays Eve as if she were never anybody other than she, is a tour de force. Allow me to put that term into context a little bit later.
As the five year old and I walked away from the theatre and up Edward Street, she told me that the play we’d just seen was, “strange and very frightening.” When I asked her if she thought Margi (Brown Ash) did a good job showing us how the writer, Eve Langley, went mad she replied, “Do I have to answer that? Of course she did! That’s what was so frightening!”
This morning, before the school run – some of you will think this is quite mad – as I consulted my Mayan Oracle Cards about how I might approach the writing of this review, I pulled the Spectral (Tone 11) card, which represents release and liberation, in terms of letting go of long-held beliefs and behavioural patterns.
Are you living your life on what it has been, instead of accepting the moment as it is now? Release yourself and others from the confines of expectation and inflexibility. Allow the grand plan to unfold in its beautifully perfect, chaotically random way!
In other words, what would Eve do?! This message is as much about the direction in which my life is going at the moment (that’s beautifully, chaotically and randomly, in case you were wondering!), as it is about viewing this show with a completely open mind and letting the events unfold in front of you, leaving judgment outside, which is what we always try to do at the theatre: we relinquish any control we thought we had to the storytellers. We trust them. We go with them on an incredible journey, in this case, much deeper into a troubled mind than we might feel comfortable going.
As Poppy and I continued walking away from the theatre and back to “reality”, right by RM Williams’ window in the Mall (I’d parked in the Wintergarden. Old habits die hard.), listening to a guy at the old Jimmy’s Downtown singing my favourite version ever, of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, we noticed the latest (very definitely non-RM Williams’ looking) design and I thought if I were going mad, I would wear those fancy RMs and not the sensible, round brown classic style, which Margi donned as Eve, refusing to tip-toe through her life in the blue Mountains.
We skipped along after that, singing and pushing away the thought of potential (inevitable?), madness of the writer. If your child is not accustomed to hanging out with the grown ups and seeing and talking theatre, I would recommend you book a babysitter. I’m grateful that Poppy’s favourite part turned out to be the re-telling by the enigmatic Stace Callaghan, of Oscar Wilde’s, The Selfish Giant, which was interwoven beautifully, helping the nightmarish outbursts from Margi and Moshlo (via voice and violin respectively) melt away that much more quickly.
Stace Callaghan – a beautiful, whimsical storyteller – gives generously, youth and all of its magical belief, innocence and hope. Moshlo, with his violin (and a broken string 20 minutes in) plays the devil incarnate, the husband, though his role is more musical than literal and I cannot imagine the soundscape (Design by Travis Ash) existing without his often-jarring compositions and superb execution. The play benefits enormously from his energy on stage.
Eve, like Wilde, was a brilliant writer. Norman Lindsay praised her debut novel, The Pea-Pickers (published in 1942), which won The Bulletin award. Even so, unlike Wilde, she attained comparatively little notoriety and died alone in her bush hut near Katoomba in 1974, after an upheaval rather than a life, during which she spent seven years in Auckland Mental Hospital (she had followed her mother there in 1932), was removed from her children and abandoned by her husband, an artist, Hilary Clark, who had committed her after he failed to continue coping with, among other things, her hermaphroditic ways and refusal to make his tea. As she observes during the final moments of the play, if she were alive today, no one would consider her mad, eccentric perhaps but not mad.
Co-devised by Margi Brown-Ash, Dan Evans and Leah Mercer, who stepped into the director’s shoes after original director, Doug Leonard sadly passed away late last year, the story is largely projection, inspired by Eve’s fiction and letters, of which we hear fragments. It’s nicely put together so that even knowing nothing about Eve Langley, you’ll feel like you know her before the conclusion of the play. And you will feel for her. Poor Eve. Her words are hard and sharp and, for the most part, completely unforgiving. Her warmth comes through only at the thought of stars and planets (until they fill her mouth and become the stuff of nightmares). She was a woman trapped in her own skin, unable to care for her own children and out of touch with “reality”. Eve’s reality consisted of days and nights of babies screaming and a husband who had to be told to shut up so she could write! Artists (and mothers) particularly, will relate to Eve’s pain and endless frustration. However, the chasm between normal disparities of roles (becoming the domestic help and wife and not the career woman) and entering into an actual state of madness is played out nicely so that only some of us (the writers!) are actually worried about suffering a similar fate in the end.
Genevieve Trace has gone straight to the top of my watch list with this show. I won’t give away the opening, which is a complete creative team accomplishment and a full assault on the senses (be ready!), but I will tell you that Gen’s evocative lighting design, working inherently with chunky intricate (I’m coining the phrase) set design by Backwoods Original and costumes by Bev Jensen, is something out of the pages of Frankie, inspired by some random European style magazine, with its perfectly placed subtle colours, underpinned (or overlaid) by the stunning effect of lit twig orbs and chandeliers. A simple but effective focus allows us to share Eve’s torment inside the confines of the mental institution. An interesting warning appears on the material outside the theatre, to let you know that “organic matter” will be used in the production. Obviously, this is in case of allergies, however; I thought that perhaps other, more sterile productions should probably come with the warning that no organic matter will be used. Perhaps this is a trick the state theatre company can keep in mind for future productions. It’s sensory theatre and we’re craving more of it. The team at Metro Arts has no qualms about letting the outside in and, just like the set of The Raven, EVE boasts more organic material than you will have seen used by local council workers to top up suburban roundabouts (the money is better spent in The Arts IMHO. Who really appreciates the bark as they’re driving by? Be honest!).
This is a show not to be missed. In particular, there is something so bold and fearless about Margi’s performance as Eve Langley that it almost defies description. But there it is. She is bold and fearless, powerful and vulnerable, passionate and selfish, determined and defiant and absolutely bloody marvelous. She’s the closest thing this town has to Robyn Nevin when Robyn Nevin is not in town.
Now. That term. What about it? Well, the term tour de force is bandied about quite often these days. Not until this intense and incredibly emotional performance by Margi Brown Ash, has it been applied appropriately thus far this year to describe a leading lady in Brisbane. I know. It’s a big call. Go see her become Eve and watch the transformation, as Eve becomes Wilde. Acting students and theatre lovers must not miss this opportunity to watch one of the masters at work in what will surely be one of the most memorable productions of the year.