BWW Review: GIVING UP MARTY, The Vaults
The Vault Festival provides a perfect platform for artists to tackle subjects that are seldom explored on stage. Writer Karen Bartholomew is herself adopted and reunited with her birth family at a young age. This is not her story; however it's obviously an issue very close to her heart and her background lends the production an appropriate authenticity.
Life has so far been safe, settled and secure for 18 year old Joel. He's always been curious about his real mother, yet never acted on it. Without warning his birth mother and sister decide to look for him, resulting in every one's lives being forever changed. As well as being about love, family and the complex nature of adoption, this is a play about identity.
Such a poignant subject matter demands a strong cast to do it justice. Danny Hetherington as our protagonist successfully conveys the fragility and utter confusion his character is experiencing. The actor impresses with his detailed depiction of Joel as a child and he enjoys excellent chemistry with Alexis Leighton as his adopted mother. The actress offers a very natural and nuanced performance, although arguably would have benefited from being given some stronger material to work with.
Leighton contrasts well with Dorothy Lawrence, who exudes the complexities of her far more multifaceted character. As Joel's birth mum, Lawrence manages to express a great deal even without dialogue with her use of eyes and facial expression carefully considered. Ugo Nelson as a Social Worker and Natasha Atkinson as Joel's sister both offer solid and assured performances with the entire ensemble working well together.
Although a reunion is at the heart of the play, its focus is very much on loss. The loss of a sibling, the loss of a mother, the loss of a child and in many ways a loss of identity. Weighty themes, yes, but under the sensitive direction of Annie Sutton and with Bartholomew's well written, naturalistic dialogue the play flows at a generally good pace and never becomes too morose.
There is a tendency to sentimentalise adoption with many films and television shows opting for fairy-tale endings. Bartholomew refuses to do this, instead tackling the topic candidly. This is an astute observation that shines a light on a part of life that's often kept in the shadows. Theatre at its most thought provoking.
Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli