BWW REVIEW: Dysfunctional Families, Death And Mental Health Come Together In A Captivating And Comic ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING
Friday 30th November 2018, 8pm, Old 505 Newtown
Dino Dimitriadis' (director) production of Mary Rachel Brown's (playwright) ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING is a brilliant expression of the untold human stories where life isn't perfect. A decidedly Australian story, this dark comedy has a universality and elements of relatability even for the most seemingly cohesive families.
Presented as a flashback, ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING centers on the days leading up to a patriarch's imminent death. Whilst youngest child Maria (Angela Bauer), now in her 40's, has been their father's sole carer for the past five years, her brother Peter (Richard Sydenham), the middle child, and eldest sister Anne (Di Adams), who also brings her son Josh (Alex Beauman) along, have taken to visiting the house daily under the guise of 'helping' but the care of their father, dying of cancer, remains Maria's duty. Anne is systematically cleaning out the house as if their father is already dead, Peter seems to just sit in the corner and Josh occasionally looks up from his book, bewildered at the bickering that persists between his mother and aunt. Along with Anne's insensitive controlling nature, she refuses to see their father and say goodbye, a response that Maria just can't understand. Peter tries to distract them, and Josh wants to understand.
Maya Keys (production design) has created a raised stage to represent the dated and somewhat dismal living room where most of the 75minute story takes place. A generic landscape print adorns the beige walls and a beaten up three-seater sofa sits in front of the sole door. A small sideboard and a dining table line the 'walls' of the space. Alexander Berlage's lighting design includes fluorescent lights bordering the stage and spotlights allow the scenes to change or remove to a location outside of the living room, and a dappled blue and colored light represents the Sydney Aquarium's walk-through shark tank where Peter and Josh find themselves escaping from the women of the story.
The performances are universally strong with Di Adams creating a suitably damaged older woman who tries to give the impression of being unaffected by her lost youth and sense of abandonment from a father who suffered the "Tata's", an undiagnosed mental illness, possibly bi-polar, that ended up with him often leaving his children to fend for themselves once their mother had died. Adams creates a thoroughly unlikable elder sister, verbally picking and prodding with no apparent regard for anyone else's feelings and refusing to forgive when there still is time.
At the receiving end of Anne's animosity and judgement, Angela Bauer ensures that Maria is seen as somewhat fragile, not fully understanding where her sister's venom is coming from and being physically and mentally fatigued from watching her father decline and dealing with Anne. Bauer's expression of Maria's coping, or inability to cope, is heartbreaking particularly when combined with Anne's persistent attacks. In contrast to Anne, Bauer ensures that Maria is seen as caring and compassionate and having a strong bond with her nephew. She also expresses the underlying understanding that Maria knows that she hasn't had the best past and she is trying to recover by taking responsibility now.
Richard Sydenham gives Peter a complexity as his fears and quirks, possibly also tied to a mental illness like his father, are gradually exposed. Sydenham's expressions of Peter trying to overcome his challenges like his fear of speaking in public add to the comedy of the work whilst also being realistic and relatable. Whilst Maria is a stronger character, more likely to retaliate to their sister's attacks, Peter lacks the courage and Sydenham expresses this submission beautifully through Peter's rambles and a closed physicality.
As Josh, Alex Beauman gives the young university student a sensitivity that is somewhat unexpected as he sits with a book rather than a device, waiting whilst his mother and aunt trade insults. He gives the work, and the family, a calming force whilst also unearthing the secrets of the past, enabling better understanding of all the characters. Beauman ensures that Josh's interactions with all of the family are touching, potentially indicating that the inherited trauma of the past two generations may have a hope of not repeating in the next generation as he is armed with the knowledge and wisdom of his mother, aunt and uncle's experience.
A wonderfully astute expression of a family torn apart by mental illness and the reality that each child was affected by their father's suffering in a different way. A well-presented reminder that we can't choose our family and that we are like fish, thrown into the same space and told to get along and that requires tolerance and forgiveness. Dimitriadis ensures that the intimate work connects with the audience with actors engaging eye contact with the audience and refraining from overplaying the piece. Dimitriadis manages the balance between seriousness and high emotion and comedy well, ensuring that the performers have a good pace and underlying understanding so that humorous moments flow smoothly in the work.
Captivating and well crafted, ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING is a brilliant performance that is suitable for all people. Well worth seeing.
ALL MY SLEEP AND WAKING