BWW REVIEW: Challenging And Confronting And Unfortunately Relevant, DRY LAND Looks At Life With Honesty But Also Hope
Tuesday 1st August 2017, 7:30pm, Kings Cross Theatre
Ruby Rae Spiegel's DRY LAND, an intense play of youth, unplanned pregnancy, and most importantly friendship is presented with graphic honesty by Director Claudia Barrie. Following on from US and UK productions, this new work, presented by Outhouse Theatre Co and Mad March Hare Theatre Co in Association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Co is wonderfully rendered to expose a side of life often hidden and shunned.
DRY LAND sees two high school girls, both on the swim team, come together in an unlikely friendship trying to deal with a frightening reality. Amy (Patricia Pemberton) is bold, brash, and rebellious and wants to be seen as cool by the bizarre standards of adolescence and doesn't really take her swimming seriously and doesn't see herself as having much of a future. Ester (Sara Rae Anne Meacham) is a recent transfer to the school and is eager to please but a bit of a loner trying to regain her status in the college swimming scene after a forced absence from the pool. The audience meet the girls when Amy, who has befriended Ester, tells her to "Punch Me", with the pleas getting more insistent and the blows getting heavier. It's when it is revealed that Amy is inviting this physical assault as a means to terminate an unwanted pregnancy that the audience knows they are in for a harrowing ride and the Producer Jeremy Water's trigger warning is not given lightly.
et predominantly in the girls change rooms, Set Designer Isabel Hudson has transformed the corridor stage into a white tiled space with a set of benches and wall hooks as the only adornment to the fluorescent lit space. The selection of the Kings Cross Theatre with its traverse seating also adds to the engagement with the work as the audience get to experience not just their own reactions to what they are witnessing, but they get to witness the other half of the audience as well. Lighting designer Liam O'Keefe provides stark white for the scenes within the change rooms and a dappled blue and shadows as transitions in time, linking the work to the story's proximity to the pool, further reinforced by Ben Pierpoint's sound design of water and pool machinery.
Whilst Barrie has opted to keep Spiegel's work in it's original Florida setting, this could just as easily be the changerooms of an Australian high school. New up and coming performers Meacham and Pemberton are outstanding in this highly challenging work that is filled with emotion and confronting ideas. Adopting consistent accents and speech patterns to transport the audience to Florida, conveying the differences and similarities in the girls, they present Amy and Ester with both the innocence and ignorance of youth without inflecting judgement on the daft but desperate ideas that they come up with to deal with Amy's situation. Pemberton gradually lets Amy's tough exterior be broken, as she is being broken by fear of an uncertain future, eventually learning what real friendship is. Meacham lets the audience watch the meek Ester grow into herself as she rises from her past to show more strength and fortitude that one could imagine.
The story is rounded out with Reba (Michelle Ny), Amy's supposed best friend who remains clueless to Amy's issues; Victor (Charles Upton), the son Ester's mother's friend in who's dorm room she stays when visiting a college for a tryout, and the Janitor (Julian Ramundi) who seems to have seen it all before. Ny captures the narcissism of youth as Reba fails to notice that her 'best friend' is in distress, caught up in the image of what is seen to be 'cool'. As Victor, Upton delivers a delightful gawkiness which matches Ester's awkwardness and infuses a gentle care and compassion into his desire to try to do the right thing and not make Ester uncomfortable. Whilst Ramundi has a minor role, he ensures that the janitor's silent scene tells so much about the situation and what has come before, and therefore what is likely to keep happening.
The work is a blend of humour, some outright, some that you know that you really shouldn't laugh at(but you do), and some brutal honesty. Whilst the overarching message is of friendship, it cannot be overlooked that DRY LAND is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy by trying to induce a miscarriage or perform a home abortion. Whilst there is conjecture as to the necessity of honest expression, the fact that it is still illegal to procure an abortion makes stories like this need to be shown in all its raw emotion and experience. With a show stopping incident of a 30ish male unable to handle the content, fainting at the pivotal moment, the cast and crew handled the situation with outstanding professionalism and minimum of fuss and Meacham and Pemberton were incredible in being able to stay within the harrowing moment till the play restarted. Whilst a number of works of late have had prior warnings about content, this performance, the subject matter and the quality of the fake blood have lifted this to one that I would suggest taking the trigger warning seriously.
DRY LAND is challenging, confronting, heartbreaking when you realise that this is not purely fiction, that there are girls are probably facing the same issues around the world, but also heartwarming in the understanding of true friendship that has arisen out of the situation. A must see for anyone as it tackles difficult stories, raises the question of why abortion is still illegal, how can we change the habits of youth that get drawn into peer pressure, and how we can protect the next generation and how we can make it safe for them to seek help.
July 28 - 19 August 2017
Image: Michael Booth