09 August 2019

Review: My Dearworthy Darling

My Dearworthy Darling
Malthouse and The Rabble
7 August 2019
Beckett Theatre
to 18 August
malthousetheatre.com.au

Jennifer Vuletic. "Me Dearworthy Darling". Photo by David Paterson

I didn't realise how often I don't see reflections of myself on our stages, until I did.

Near the opening of The Rabble's My Dearworthy Darling, Jennifer Vuletic lies on a rock/couch/bed  talking about not being looked at with disgust. Middle aged? Of a certain age? "Never ask a lady her age" bullshit. Women who no longer have the physical benefits of oestrogen and the appeal of fertility can disappear from our stories as we're not virgins, 30-somethings or crones. Not in this story.

Trying to find meaning in a production by The Rabble can work against experiencing their work. On a very superficial level, this is a story about domestic and family gaslighting overcome by the voice and choir of a mystic from the middle ages; which doesn't come near to what's really going on.

The Rabble's theatre can feel confusing and unclear, but their work is visceral and meaning seeps into you without you knowing. It could be in how the lighting changes the colour of the air or how hearing the sound though a bank of speakers forces you to change how you listen to the people on stage. It might be the words or the performances. Or the carpeted floor and the vacuum, silver draped ceiling and LED sign. Or the choir of hooded monks.

But it is likely that your understanding is something that no one else felt.

The text by Alison Croggon began with the 14th century writings of Margery Kemp. Croggon's prolific writing includes criticism, journalism, poetry, libretti, plays and fiction (young adult, fantasy and historical). This text feels like it incorporates them all – there's even a critic joke – but feels more personal than other works of hers that I've read.

The personal is also in the performances from Vuletic, Natalie Gamsu (her sister) and Ben Grant (her partner). In a world that looks and feels so unlike the domestic, they find a naturalism that almost tips the text's poetry and they create characters so recognisable that it's easy to know, understand or judge them.

Natalie Gamsu. "My Dearworthy Darling". Photo by David Paterson

As it was always written to be a collaboration with directors-designers-Rabble-founders Emma Valente and Kate Davis, it's not an option to look at the text away from the production and performance. Davis and Valente develop their theatre from a rehearsal room where no one's voice is excluded and even though only a fraction of the development ends up on the stage, the contributions of all are so blurred that it seems like one voice.

My Dearworthy Darling surprises with its shifts from the familiar to the unknown and from the mundane to the spiritual. Its symbolism is as obvious as it is obscure but its many contradictions feel surprising natural. It's not easy theatre and is as much about theatre as it is about the deeply personal and hidden. But it left me feeling like it was theatre for me.

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