NEXT TO NORMAL at Brisbane Arts Theatre
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, amongst a plethora of other awards, Next to Normal is the story of Diana Goodman, who lives with bipolar disorder and delusion episodes following the traumatic death of her infant son seventeen years ago and her illnesses' ramifications within her family. Amongst depression, the show tackles a number of serious issues such as drug abuse, modern psychiatry, suicide, and most importantly, what it means to be human; what it means to feel grief, pain, hurt and, on the contrary, to feel loved. It's a musical which deals which intertwines the past, present and future with the human condition in the most insightful, emotionally crippling yet beautiful way and so that it comes with no surprise that many more theatre companies are including in their seasons.
Theatre should always be an intimate exchange between the performer and the audience and I think the performers in Brisbane Arts Theatre's production do just that. In most plays, the characters' show the audience what they're feeling but in this work, the audience is thrown into the troubled minds of each character and in a way, become a mechanism of sorts in the mind of each character. Matilda Award-Winner Carly Skelton made us feel what it was like to be Diana, she made us see what Diana was seeing and made us understand why Diana is who she is and did what she does. Through her powerful vocals, Skelton took us on an emotional rollercoaster; none other more so than in 'You Don't Know' and 'I Am The One', a song which she shared with Christopher Batkin (Gabe) and Adam Douglas Bartlett (Dan). Bartlett was such a formidable addition to the cast, who's performance was filled with such pain and raw honesty that I couldn't help but shed a tear in 'I Am The One' (Reprise)', when he held Gabe in his arms.
What I love the most about this show is that there is a character that resonates to all of us; none more so than Natalie Goodman, the forgotten daughter. We follow her quest for perfection; the perfect family, perfect boyfriend, perfect future, perfect high school dance; all things which we, as humans, search for. Actor Hannah Kassulke brought such honestly, fragility yet also strength to the role and was the first one to bring me to tears, with her rendition of 'Superboy and the Invisible Girl'.
Whilst I often felt that the direction was a bit chaotic at times and could be more refined, I was impressed by the vulnerability in the casts' performance and their honesty in showing the audience of what it means to be human and how important it is that we have the agency to feel what we feel.
Rating: 3.5 Stars