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BWW Review: THE HEIDI CHRONICLES TAKES US BACK TO FEMINIST FOUNDATIONS at New Theatre

One of the hardest concepts to get across to people when discussing feminism through any medium, in any conversation or movement, is that it only began in the sixties. As a new generation takes up the flag, sword, pen and tongue in the name of women's liberation, there is no better time for something like The Heidi Chronicles playing at New Theatre to remind us what the journey has looked like before us. Brimming with nostalgia, an earnest perception of how a world of opportunity opened up for women and how that made as many things harder as easier, The Heidi Chronicles follows an at-times unsure woman through unsure times to reach an unknown destination.

Written by Wendy Wasserstein as a response to how male-dominant the arts industry was in her time, The Heidi Chronicles was first produced during a serious lull for the feminist movement, effectively reawakening many women of all ages from the enjoyment of what rewards had been garnered to the continuation of the work still left to do. It was even turned into a film starring Jamie Lee Curtis in 1995. Some say that though the word feminist is as alive and antagonising today as back then, we are still not turning around the most serious concerns for women's physical safety, equal pay and inclusion in levels of industry and politics. The New Theatre production seems timely for both education and reminding of where we're yet to tread.

In the titular role, Lauren Dillon is given the hard task of being the woman in a feminist play, which opens her character up to incredible scrutiny and responsibility. Dillon's ability to move between wielding confidence and frustration, in quick juxtaposition with disheartenment and uncertainty earn much esteem for carrying the play with nuance and sincerity. Caroline Levien is eye-catching and gives great animation to the stage as best friend Susan Johnston, whose pursuit of the cause is more confident and yet we remain unsure if she sold-out in the end, or sacrificed only one wave to better destabilise the next. Before I give any gents a guernsey, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame's idiosyncratic execution of voice and mannerism kept the audience in peals of laughter, and just when you least expected it she knew exactly how to drive the knife right in with a cut to deep emotion. Sarah Aubrey and Olivia O'Flynn followed this suit most entertainingly, the former shining as TV personality April Lambert, the latter in her role as Denise, Susan's assistant.

The hard thing about contemporary feminist writing is that you can't escape the criticism that women responding to men or basing decisions on their input is traitorous. The Heidi Chronicles gave me some of this irk, but in terms of truth to the time, it has value to watch Heidi move as buffered by the men around her, if for no other reason than to alert the audience as to how wrong it is outside the hallowed theatre. Matthew Charleston balanced charisma with pomp perfectly to foil Heidi, as Darren Sabadina struck his own mould for homosexuality and impertinence to support her.

It was made all the more marvellous for a show to make best efforts to represent the feminist movement truthfully to then be backed up almost exclusively by women. Alice Livingstone's direction made for strong characters, though the dynamic of the stage sometimes lost momentum. Kudos to David Marshall-Martin for mixing up the usual state of affairs at New by creating a corridor-stage opening up so much depth for all that it was a simple decision, which would have been taken to the next level with more attention paid to the visual projections employed to set location, time and cultural contexts. Famke Visser's costumes created as much comedy as they did authenticity, for which the audience were grateful as it brought the action all the more to life.

All in all, The Heidi Chronicles may not be an easy read but it's place in the theatre-scape is as important for viewing today as it was nearly thirty years ago!

Tickets at New Theatre website.
Images by Bob Seary.


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