Tiddas (La Boite Theatre Company, QPAC and Brisbane Festival)
La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
September 5 – 24
Like “Sex and the City”, “Tiddas” is a frank and warm look at female friendship. Far from the hustle and bustle of New York City, however, the story is set under the blooming jacarandas of 2022 Brisbane, which makes its world premiere as part of this year’s Brisbane Festival, especially appropriate.
The page-to-stage adaptation of playwright Anita Heiss’s best-selling novel tells the story of five old high school friends reunited to form a book club called vixens in acronym of their first names. The women, we learn have been best friends for decades, now meeting once a month to talk about books, but also, as bookclubs also are, life, love and all the rest. And so their candid conversations become a springboard for reflection of their differing journeys towards their forties and desire for the energy of their youth growing up together in the little smoke of Wiradyuri country’s Mudgee before over time all moving to big smoke of Meeanjin (Brisbane, created through the set and costume design of Zoë Rouse in work with Jason Glenwright’s lighting design and Wil Hughes’ sound design).
Recently divorced Veronica (Anna McMahon), the Switzerland and organiser of the group, just wants to be happy again. Meanwhile, career focussed in her ambitions to become Australia’s Oprah, Izzy (Phoebe Grainer) is a contrast to Xanthe (Shakira Clanton), desperate to have a baby and buy a Queenslander to settle down to her ideal life. Ellen (Chenoa Deemal) is fiercely single and loving her independence, while successful author Nadine (Louise Brehmer) appears to be living the dream.
There is much with which audience members of a certain similar age can identify from within and across their diverse characters, and indeed from everyone with regards to how almost comically little disagreements can escalate. While initially you might yourself identifying with one character (for me it was group organiser and post-it note prepared Veronica), as their stories unfold in all their real-life complexities, this soon shifts into realisation that we perhaps have a part of each vixen within us somewhere.
What elevates the story, however, is its integration of commentary on and contemplation of bigger issues stemming from the social political climate of the time. Discussion of reconciliation and identity arises from the women’s conversations about and consideration of possible books to read, with conflict emerging from this and also the secrets that exist despite the longevity of their friendships.
Men feature within the women’s story (in addition to Roxanne McDonald’s appearance in a couple of small roles, Sean Dow jumps in and out of playing all male roles), however, ultimately “Tiddas” is about its women. Through their support of each other through differing world views, we are shown the importance of sharing stories. And how wonderful it is to see a story on stage that would so easily pass the Bechdel test measure of women talking to each other about something other than a man.
While all actors are impressive in their commitment to such distinct characters, perhaps all unlikeable in some way at some stage during the story’s unfolding, comic relief comes primarily from Demmal as the straight talking Ellen. Yet she also brings some softness to the reasoning for her character’s survival and resolute determination. Clanton also gives a standout performance as Xanthe, bringing nuance and sensitivity to the extremes of her character’s moving emotional journey through the story of a year in their lives.
We may have seen their dilemmas played out in stories before, but these are still characters who are both believable and authentic, strong individually, but stronger together, which befits the play’s title. (Tiddas is, as the program reminds us, a shared Aboriginal word for sisters, not just by blood, but as created by the strong bonds of friendship and love over years of lived experience and travelled journeys). While sometimes brutal in its bitter travel through the stretch of friendship bonds, under Nadine McDonald-Dowd balanced direction “Tiddas” is ultimately a celebration of the universal language of sisterhood, easy to watch and enjoy, especially with your old sisterhoods of strength.
Photos c/o – Farley Ward