Anatomy of a Suicide (BC Productions)
Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre
May 18 – 29
With concurrently played out stories across three generations of mothers and daughters, BC Productions’ “Anatomy of a Suicide” has a lot going on from the very outset of its Brisbane premiere. The locations of its stories, 1973, 1998 and 2033 are oriented by video projections above the expanse of the stage (AV Design by Jeremy Gordon), which allows opportunity to reinforce the motifs of nature that hover across all three stories of the traumatic tale by UK playwright Alice Birch.
The stories play out side-by-side, however, are far from static, switching across stage sections and also interestingly taking some scenes to the theatre’s balcony seating area as, for example, Carol (Elise Greig) surveys trees on property just bought with her husband (Daniel Murphy), unknowing of their symbolism to the generations of family to follow.
It is fragile Carol whose story to which we are first introduced in the three successive two-person scenes that orient the audience as to the character and characters of the work. She appears with barely visible bandaged forearms as the relics of a suicide attempt she keeps insisting to her mild-mannered husband John was an accident. Then there is Anna (Rebecca Alexander) Carol’s free-spirited, heroin-addict grown-up daughter trying to solicit some drugs from a doctor she knows and also a scene with Bonnie (Zoe Houghton), Anna’s guarded grown daughter doctor, stitching the hand the hand of a flirty patient (Jodie Le Vesconte).
From their first introductions, they aren’t all entirely likeable, which is one of the show’s strengths; its characters exist in all their humanity and Birch’s script never shies away from the complexity of its tough topics as we see Carol, Anna and Bonnie experience love, loss, grief, laughter and death.
As each respective woman, in each respective time, occupies her own third of the stage, the dialogue of their short, episodic scenes dances together rhythmically, colliding in synchronisation of key lines to emphasise the commonality of concepts like truth, home and happiness. Indeed, words and images recur as they web together and move in time about the space, often in accompaniment of contrasting action, as the scenes chronicle pivotal and often mundane moments in each of their lives, with Phil Hagstrom’s soundscape bleeding across the action.
Having three scenes volley back and forth makes for hard work for its audience, in initial scenes at least as we attempt to decipher identities and relationships, and appreciate the deliberately placed minor mentions, however, the 10 performers of the show’s cast maintain the demands of its pace and precision as if they are effortless. And movement is effectively blocked to invite the audience in to multi-levelled interrogation of what is owed by each generation, what is passed on, the real costs of mental anguish and consideration of where genetics might end and personal choice begin.
While all cast members give thoughtful performances, appropriately, those of the actors exploring its female characters are particularly strong. Alexander and Houghton bring commanding emotional intensity to their roles. In addition, Vesconte is particularly engaging as fisherwoman Jo, intent on breaking down Bonnie’s emotional barriers. Her intonation and patient comic timing ensures she receives most of the night’s laughs (although there is mental anguish to the simultaneously told stories, there are some moments of humour). And Triona Giles is vibrant as both the young Anna and also her forthright and inquisitive cousin Daisy.
Elise Grieg is magnificent as always. She not only displays a compelling emotional intensity, but with feathered Farrah hair, pussy bow of-the-era dress and beige boots, she very much looks the part of desperate 1970s housewife. Indeed, costumes are excellent across the board in reflecting respective eras and also characters, particularly of the three generations of distressed women.
Under Catrina Hebbard’s careful, taut direction, the stories of “Anatomy of a Suicide” soon find their independent rhythms and things move quickly through its 1 hour 45 minute (no interval) run time towards a resting place of legacy, ensuring that emerging audience questions are answered. Not only does it explore the ideas of family, mental health, love and strong women, but it dually touches on notions like the role of place in identity, giving the show an appeal beyond what may be determined from its confronting title. Accordingly, there was much for audience members to talk with each other about as leaving the New Benner Theatre, as everyone grappled with their impressions of the powerful play. One commonality, however, is its provocation and audience appreciation of the unique opportunity to experience the work, which has only ever previously played in London, New York and Sydney.
Photos c/o – Nick Morrissey