Gloria (Queensland Theatre Company)
The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio
July 19 – August
The wide Bille Brown Studio stage has never looked busier than for Elaine Acworth’s “Gloria”. It is an angular, fragmented design that reflects the plot and themes to follow, with separate sections representing a hospital, a performance venue and a family area, different experiences in space, but also scattered moments in time and memory, sometimes shrouded in the shadow of secrets but, at others, with a disconnect emphasised by strobe lighting and a stage edge mirrored towards the audience. It is initially difficult to know where to look but also, at times, difficult to look everywhere, with action sometimes occurring at the absolute fringes of the stage.
It is soon clear that the staging is such so as to parallel the increasingly unreal world of confusion in which Gloria Clare (Christen O’Leary) finds herself frighteningly thrust. Having fled the rural Australia of her 1970s youth to find fame overseas, she has now returned, in her fifties and determined to connect with the illegitimate son she left behind. When she has a stroke, her son Ned (Steven Rooke) is contacted by hospital staff only because his is the only phone number discovered in her belongings. Believing her to have been dead, he is surprised and angry, working through his emotions with supportive wife Maggie (Naomi Price) and musically gifted son Justin (newcomer Elijah Wellsmore, performing as a result of his first professional audition).
As Gloria shares the fragments of her memory, her life story is told from being pregnant at 18, giving Ned up for adoption when he was two and half, leaving for Europe and enjoying a successful musical career. And although she is brought to life in her memories, this is also a moving personal drama in which she is suffering from the current trauma of losing her identity and independence.
Christen O’Leary delivers a standout performance, shining in both character and voice as the titular Gloria, a vulnerable and fragile, yet feisty and proud woman struggling with her diminished memory. Although Gloria has initially lost the power of speech, she can sing and sing she does, with O’Leary demonstrating extraordinary vocal and interpretive range in the cabaret-style numbers that see her accompanied on the grand piano by real-life husband Andrew McNaughton.
“Gloria” gives audiences a solid and compelling narrative, told in a tautly directed 90 minutes. It is not a love story so much as a story about love. Indeed, it is an emotional play of many harrowing themes: family, love, memory and regret and its contemplation of the concept of the past as both anchor and chain, is thought-provoking. Poignant, funny, poignant, funny – you may confound yourself trying to decide what to take away from the experience, however, it is a show that will stay with you, if only in the marvel that you have witnessed an exceptional performance.
Photo c/o – https://www.facebook.com/qldtheatreco