22
Oct
15

Sunnytown

 

Sunnytown

La Boite Indie

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

October 15 – 31 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

“When a creature is exposed to violence, it will tend to adapt to that disturbance, so that when the violence ceases or the creature is allowed its freedom, the healthy instinct to flee is hugely diminished, and the creature stays put instead.”

 

― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

 

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In experiencing this play I’m again reminded of Brecht, who famously stated, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

 

Sunnytown is a shiny new play with a dark core, written and directed by recent(ish) NIDA grads, Krystal Sweedman (Writer) and Heather Fairbairn (Director). It’s a worthy text brought to life in the first instance with the help of pozible, and now La Boite Indie. Originally penned under the tutelage of Stephen Sewell, Sunnytown is a challenging piece in terms of its content and style. It’s not my favourite play this year but it’s the first of four independent productions at La Boite and as lovers and makers of live theatre, not to mention lovers and makers of humanity, it gives us a lot to consider.

 

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

 

What we think might be the simple preparations of a helicopter mother for her daughter’s thirteenth birthday party precludes a pre-Grimm moralistic fairytale complete with warnings, distractions, a dream world and dire consequences. It could even be considered pre-Hellenic. Demeter and Persephone, anyone?

 

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The Sunnytown of the title is a dubious place, imaginary, but not (but, yes, it is). It feels like a secret rave for the subconscious, in which there is mention of a basement (the darkest, deepest realm of our psyche) and strange interpretive dance and physical theatre inspired by the actual reactions to anaphylactic shock (yes, that’s the cake through-line), which don’t advance the story but instead seem superfluous to it, and distract us rather than focus our attentions on Dani, the birthday girl. The “basement” is never reached, by the way…

 

Sam has an interesting reading of this piece. I like it. It has merit. Here it is. *(Spoiler alert. Sort of)

 

What if Marg, the mother, is the only character on stage? Think about it.

 

“Though her soul requires seeing, the culture around her requires sightlessness. Though her soul wishes to speak its truth, she is pressured to be silent.”

 

The relationship with her husband reflects the relationship she had with her father, and the relationship with her daughter exists from the memories of her childhood and her own imaginary friend. It’s not what’s intended, clearly, but nevertheless…

 

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Caroline Dunphy brings to the archetypal mother role all the qualities one might expect to see in a work that quietly shouts themes of manipulative and abusive relationships, and our common coping mechanisms. A particularly lovely and relatable (and unsettling) moment occurs early, when she tries to give a jar to her husband for him to open when she struggles to do so herself. He raises his newspaper in front of his face and “misses” her gesture. She’s invisible. She has the appropriate concern for the child and a desire to be with the husband but with all of it there comes a distinct and deliberate…distance from everyone around her. She’s actually impenetrable, appearing to have a more reliable relationship with her bottle of rum, which she nurses, keeping out of the clutches of her husband, than with anybody in the immediate vicinity.

 

“When a woman is frozen of feeling, when she can no longer feel herself, when her blood, her passion, no longer reach the extremities of her psyche, when she is desperate; then a fantasy life is far more pleasurable than anything else she can set her sights upon. Her little match lights, because they have no wood to burn, instead burn up the psyche as though it were a big dry log. The psyche begins to play tricks on itself; it lives now in the fantasy fire of all yearning fulfilled. This kind of fantasizing is like a lie: If you tell it often enough, you begin to believe it.”

 
― Clarissa Pinkola EstésWomen Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

 

Ron Kelly as Jim, the husband, is a lurking, violent, damaged soul and then just as suddenly he’s the splendidly daggy entertainment at the birthday party, absurdly twisting balloons and unashamedly cracking every dad joke in the book. The polarity is nicely presented. In both Kelly and Dunphy we see strong performances, alongside Olivia Hall-Smith (Dani) and Vanessa Krummenacher (Miranda) in a master and apprentice scenario. These two are young and fresh as daisies, with Krummenacher giving us the guts and frighteningly convincing Mean Girls-ness of a thirteen-year old BFF, and Hall-Smith offering girlish joy and that unique brand of “tween” despair and the silent retreat to somewhere other-worldly.

 

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Guy Webster’s sinister soundscape sets the mood and keeps us guessing (it’s really brilliant work), and Jason Glenwright’s lighting, with a string of party lights behind and a collection of golden paper lanterns above, in a gesture that is ever so slightly reminiscent of Rumour Has It, brings a surreal party atmosphere to a seemingly ordinary household in a “floating” white floored set designed by Catherine Steele.

 

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Fairbairn has thrown every trick in the book at this play, which might speak better if left to do so for itself. But look past the “glimmer” and you’ll see the essence of a story about hope, and coping as best we can, even if that means clinging to a bottle of rum more tightly than to a loved one for a little while.

 

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans Photography

 

Quotes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves

 

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