Rhonda is in Therapy – Arts Hub – Reviewed by Nicole Eckersly
This new work from Hoy Polloy Theatre and Baggage Productions is a touching – and often funny – exploration of what is often considered the most cutting form of grief: the sudden loss of a young child. We meet Rhonda as she visits her new therapist for the first time, and slowly see every aspect of her life unfold in their discussions. In bereavement, the term ‘complicated grief’ is used to describe intense or unresolved mourning; in Rhonda Is In Therapy, Rhonda brings whole new meanings to the word ‘complicated’.
The work, written by Bridgette Burton (with the development assistance of Julian Meyrick, and of the R E Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Award) and directed by Wayne Pearn, is surprisingly long at an hour and a half, but given I didn’t realise that fact until I was on the tram home, it’s safe to say it doesn’t drag in the least.
This is going to be a hard work to review, because it contains not just one big reveal, but several, each of which reshapes the work, and re-casts its events in a series of new and increasingly convoluted lights. All of which I am itching to talk about at length, because they are really quite good, but my lips are sealed. Suffice to say that there was many an ‘OH MY!’-type moment. It’s also, as is to be expected, a big old tear-jerker. With material like this, it would be hard not to be, but Burton has added a good amount of levity to offset the emotional subject matter, and handles the work’s emotions neatly, so there’s a nice flow between humour and drama.
In the lead role, Louise Crawford was a little awkward to begin with, but soon warmed up and gave a solid and very believable turn as Rhonda, a 40-something chemical engineering professor, all nervous energy and elbows. Ben Grant offered a well-executed performance as her absurdly lovely German husband Lief (with both an excellently maintained German accent, and some actual German for good measure). Jamieson Caldwell did a good (if brief) job as the student, but top honours have to go to Kelly Nash, who played the therapist to an absolute turn, as well as ducking out momentarily to play Rhonda’s mother; rarely have I seen a more convincing portrayal of good counselling (including from actual counsellors at work) in a performance which only improved as the character became more complex.
To be fair and even-handed in my gushing: Nash’s ring-in as the voice of Rhonda’s children was a little excruciating. It’s always going to be difficult to create a theatrical work involving children, much less five year olds: Rhonda is in Therapy opts for invisible children and a voiceover, with middling success. Speaking of excruciating, the work also made possibly a little too much use of theatrically faked sex; while it was interesting as a character plotline, at length it became a mite silly.)
Nevertheless, this is a gripping, touching, and dramatic piece of theatre, and if the heavy subject matter isn’t too rich for your blood, it’s a chewy and interesting bit of food for thought.
Rhonda is in Therapy – Weekend Notes – reviewed by Alice Bleby
Melbourne is a city of hidden treasures – tiny cafes squeezed into narrow lanes, bars hidden down dingy alleyways, galleries squirreled away above or below an apparently innocuous office building or shopfront. Looking for an (indoors) adventure on a rainy Melbourne evening, I made my intrepid way down the fairy-lit stairwell to the hidden heart of an old factory building on Flinders Lane at fortyfivedownstairs, and found a theatrical evening that surprised, challenged and ultimately delighted.
An intimate, not-for-profit theatre and gallery venue, fortyfivedownstairs has a reputation for showcasing powerful independent theatre, and the current offering, Rhonda Is In Therapy, seems to be no exception.
When I left the theatre, I felt, as I do on those rare and precious occasions when a performance has resonated deeply, as though my soul had been enlarged in some important way. After sharing the evening with Rhonda, I was capable of a little more compassion, a little more empathy for my fellow human being – as well as flush with the pleasure of a stimulating 90 minutes well spent, with plenty of conversational cud to chew after the fact.
The play centres on Rhonda, a university professor with a loving husband, a daughter, a passionate younger lover, and a terrible tragedy.
As only theatre has the power to do, Rhonda evokes for the audience a profound element in the depth of human experience. The portrayal of loss and the impacts of traumatic grief is touching and truthful – for those who have experienced something akin to Rhonda’s story, it may be too close to home; but for those fortunate enough to be free of such pain, the play offers a moving insight into what such a tragedy really means to those affected.
And yet, the script is filled with light touches and gentle humour that allow the audience to enter into the play and emerge moved, but not traumatised, by what they have seen. The narrative is full of quirks and unexpected turns, in a script that engages from beginning to end and, somewhat satisfyingly, asks more questions along the way than it answers.
And from such a conveniently located hidey-hole as fortyfivedownstairs, good coffee – or good wine – can easily be found, over which to reflect on the unique rhythms of Melbourne’s cultural heartbeat.
The Program 02/01/07. Reviewed by Jade Gulliver
Jeremy (Fabian Kahwati) is lying lifeless in a hospital bed. In the chair beside him sits his girlfriend, Madeline (Bridgette Burton). What unfolds in the next eighty minutes is a journey that explains how each of them arrived here.
Throughout the play the characters re-enact the events of the crash that lead to Jeremy’s current state, which also allows the audience to gather new information about the relationship between Jeremy and Madeline.
After receiving the prognosis that Jeremy will never regain consciousness Madeline, racked with guilt, locks herself in his hospital room refusing to let go of him. Confronted by her guilt, Madeline reaches the realisation that perhaps their relationship hadn’t been as ideal as she’d imagined.
The shifting of time and place transcends the confines of the hospital room as Madeline and Jeremy bring their lives and the people in it to the audience. Madeline borders on turning to delusions and erratic behaviour as the audience witness her emotional transitions.
As Burton’s first full- length play she demonstrates the ability to contrast humour and tragic circumstance, while battling a difficult subject matter. She doesn’t shy away from presenting flawed characters and conflicting emotions.
Kahwati and Burton not only inhabit the past, present and future of Jeremy and Madeline’s lives but also delve into members of Jeremy and Madeline’s family, hospital staff and even an ex of Jeremy’s. It’s an extremely raw performance aided only by limited sound effects and some music.
The Age 11/12/06. Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead
Bridgette Burton’s Killing Jeremy is an elegant and dramatically assured two-hander about a young woman, Madeleine, whose boyfriend is in a coma.
To quote songwriter Morrissey, “it’s really serious”. As Madeleine maintains her vigil by Jeremy’s bedside, the burden of guilt and grief mounts; the extremity of emotion threatens to drive her mad. But only by pushing herself to the brink does Madeleine attain an ironic distance from her own angst, and – unlike the emo in The Smiths’ jaunty Girlfriend In a Coma – she stops wallowing long enough to find some resolution.
Killing Jeremy’s inherently static situation proves Burton’s writing skill because she finds ways to keep the dramatic current flowing swiftly. One of her main devices is the rapid character change: Burton might move from playing the headstrong and immature Madeleine, to a no-nonsense nurse, to Jeremy’s dignified, pragmatic mother – all in a single scene.
Such lightning switches require considerable versatility as an actor, and despite a shaky beginning, Burton soon finds her stride, investing each role with instant credibility through finely tuned nuances of character.
Fabian Kahwati is likewise called upon to perform multiple roles – the charismatic, free-spirited Jeremy; Madeleine’s sober and dry-witted father; and sundry medical staff. And (except where he’s compelled to play a woman) his acting is exquisitely observed.
There are still a few hitches – the last 20 minutes or so drag, with some later dramatic points made redundant by earlier scenes. And while most of the show’s segues are imbued with a dramatic inevitability, on a couple of occasions the intrinsic corniness of a dream sequence or flashback introduces an unedifying sense of bathos.
But the talent far outweighs these problems. Using only a hospital bed, a chair and two actors, director Wayne Pearn brings an absorbing intensity to this tragic love story, without succumbing to oversentimentality. And his lightness of touch serves the play’s more humorous moments well.
Killing Jeremy is as poignant and funny and true as our best stories of youth cut down – as Luke Davies’ Candy, say – and the actors’ deeply empathic performances make for compelling theatre.
Reviewed by John Gunn for 3CR’s “Curtain Up” 6/12/06
“Killing Jeremy” which was a recipient of the R.E. Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development and short listed for the Griffin Award 2006, could be described either as a love story, a story of guilt and also deception. Set in a hospital room where Jeremy is on life support after a serious car accident we find his partner Madeleine, who had been driving the car at the time of the accident, going over in her mind their life together and trying to come to terms with her own inner most thoughts regarding their relationship.
This play poses many questions such as the right to turn off life support, love and its meaning plus do we really know who we are and what we want in this life. It is at times disturbing and black with not much relief for an audience and although I think it could benefit by a little tightening, it is quite a compelling piece that does draw you in.
Wayne Pearn has directed this very complex play with tremendous feeling giving it an emotional edge drawing out the inner depth of the work; the two actors Bridgette Burton and Fabian Kahwati, who play all characters, have risen to the challenge with very fine performances fitting the changing moods and rhythms with just the right emotional balance and clearly defining each separate character. There is a lot of flashback in the play, showing us the way these two young people were and the incidents in their lives leading up to the car accident along with other important yet minor characters in their lives….. but all the while the focus of the text is on the central or core roles, Madeleine and Jeremy. The body language was excellent and the emotion in the relationship so convincing as were its changes; the car accident features several times, each a little different and the scene where both writhed and fell to the floor bathed in red light was ‘hold your breath’ stuff.
The minimal setting of hospital bed and chair more than filled the bill and was excellently and emotionally enhanced by the lighting of Stelios Karagiannis and the sound design of Fabian Kahwati – this is a good play with a strong script and consequentially does not need the trappings of sets, costumes etc etc.
How to sum up this play which runs for some 80 mins? – some may lean to the guilt and the hindsight of ‘if only’, or the inevitable close of a relationship and wonder if it ever would have had permanence – for me, I guess all of these but having seen the show just after the weekend when some 10, yes, 10 people were killed here in road accidents, I felt some despair – this play is the tragic story of what happens afterwards and the story that never enters the consciousness of those behind the wheel.
So, if you’re looking for a fun filled night out then this is not for you, if you want to see a play that tackles issues full on then you won’t be disappointed.
“Killing Jeremy” sees Hoy Polloy in top form and the production continues at the Carlton Courthouse until the 16/12 and you can book on 9016 3784.
Reviewed by Louisa Deasey The Age (A2) 9/12/06
Actor/writer Bridgette Burton won the RE Ross Trust Playwright’s Script Development Award for Killing Jeremy and it’s easy to see why. The script took two years to complete, which was worth the wait.
Described as “an actor’s play” and a “crisp two-hander with an engaging array of characters performed by two actors who must shift mercurially in mood and sensibility”, Killing Jeremy deals with life, love and loss, demanding complete involvement from its duel stars to keep the audience riveted. A challenging idea, which Burton and fellow actor Fabian Kahwati mesmerisingly execute.
Acts of Loneliness
Beat 22/06/05. Reviewed by John Bailey
The two one-act plays which make up Acts of Loneliness would, on first glance, seem to offer a stark contrast: sure, they’re both two-handers performed by the same actors, but the tight realism of the first piece (Not Forgotten) is a world away from the absurd and non-naturalistic latter half, One on One. What unites the two, however, is a kind of dramatic circling or dance, a way of gesturing towards the central event or circumstance that forms each play’s focus without allowing it to be directly addressed. In each case, this focal point is one of loneliness, of the ache which forms a bond between the profoundly damaged and oh-so human characters with which we’re presented.
Not Forgotten offers us a bitter and despondent woman (Tiffany Davis) confronted by an old schoolmate she cannot remember (Christina Costigan). Suggestions of bullying, suicide and unrequited affection slowly gather substance, and by the play’s conclusion we have managed to glimpse a great deal of the turmoil that carries on from youth, despite our best efforts to avoid it.
One on One, conversely, never makes concrete the relationship between its two protagonists, who may or may not be sisters, but who seem to be locked into an endless game of repositioning themselves and their histories so as to become closer, but not too close. The play teases the audience often, holding out answers before pulling them away, and there’s a sophisticated eloquence to the writing that can serve to enlighten or confound in equal measure.
Overall, the two pieces work best to highlight the superb control of theatrical language possessed by their writers, Not Forgotten’s Bridgette Burton and One on One’s Costigan. It’s an involving and memorable double bill that will leave you with plenty to ponder.
Acts of Loneliness
Inpress 29/6/05. Reviewed by Angela Cook
Imagine opening your door and finding yourself faced with someone who claims that fifteen years earlier you had caused them such immense pain that their life has never recovered. The only thing is, you look at their face and draw a complete blank. This is how we are introducd to ‘Not Forgotten’ (written by Bridgette Burton), the first play in the ‘Acts of Loneliness’. What follows is a journey of reconciliation and forgiveness as the two characters are faced with differing perspectives of an experience they shared. One asks oneself, what are the consequences of betrayal?
The actors, Christina Costigan and Tiffany Davis, deliver performances that demonstrate an excellent working relationship on the stage, further exemplified in their second performance, ‘One on One’ (written by Christina Costigan). This play is a tennis match of back and forth dialogue that amuses, intrigues and leaves one questioning. We meet Jane and Georgia. Georgia is convinced they are long lost sisters, but does her theory hold any validity? Are the coincidences misleading or are they about to unravel a connection that reveals more?
Both of these plays will appeal to women in particular. There are many references in the secret code of women’s conversation, however they will be appreciated by men for the humour and witty dialogue. See for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
One on One and Not Forgotten
3 CR’s “Curtain Up” 29/5/03. Reviewed by John Gunn
Written and performed by writer/actors Christina Costigan and Bridgette Burton, these two new short act plays have been given a premiere season in conjunction with Heidelberg Theatre Co. and interesting pieces they are, so lets look at them individually.
“Not Forgotten” by Bridgette Burton introduces us to Rebecca Reed, a thirty something, moderately successful young woman, it is Friday evening when she is visited by Louise Dieve who is doing market research. It transpires that both women were at school together, and we learn that Rebecca was a rather nasty bully and made life hell for Louise although Rebecca denies remembering either Louise or the events that happened. As the story unfolds we learn of the events that have shaped both personalities and I guess the moral of the story is, do we move on in life or do we cling to the past perhaps to the extent where it becomes an obsession with, in this instance, bitter consequences for both.
Of the two this is the most traditional in writing and concept, acted with plenty of energy by both the actors, one quibble however, delivery is fast and on occasion vocal projection was not quite strong enough to hear all dialogue at the back of the theatre – an audience is seeing it for the first time and needs to hear every inch of the dialogue to pick up on the nuances or twists in the story, particularly as to my mind there was an underlying suggestion of menace. However I found it a very enjoyable and entertaining piece, directed with energy by Wayne Pearn and acted with style.
“One on One” by Christina Costigan is quite an intriguing play about mind games when two women meet over coffee at a café where one proceeds to inform the other (a complete stranger) that they are in reality, sisters. Are we witnessing a meeting between two or is it one person seeking an identity. The play really moves at a cracking pace, highlighting the more absurd aspects of the writing. Quite a tantalising little piece.
Whilst settings were basic, I think they could possibly work more minimally (that is without the walls) providing the lighting rig was of a more sophisticated design.
To sum up: two very interesting and different plays, neatly written and constructed, acted with energy and assurance by Christina Costigan and Bridgette Burton and directed with understanding by Wayne Pearn. Companies looking for one act plays would do well to have a read of these two new works, judging by last Thursday night’s reception they have much to offer. Congratulations to Heidelberg in being part of this premiere season and I look forward to seeing more from Baggage Productions in the up and coming Melbourne Fringe Festival.
The Age 30/09/03. Reviewed by Jim Murphy
Actor-writers Bridgette Burton and Christina Costigan formed Baggage Productions to present their show, Femme, at the 2000 Fringe Festival. They have been refining their style in successive shows and, Undomesticated, in which they are joined by Michael Rafferty and Janine Watson, is their best yet.
The pacy revue, designed as “a gleeful look at bad behaviour and the animal in us all”, pokes fun at the myriad aspects of modern living, from television ads and video-gamers lusting after Lara Croft to small talk and bitchiness, reality TV shows (enthusiastically endorsed by Satan via a PR emissary from hell), porn movies and even opera (a poignant recitative about a missing donut).
The show is performed slickly and is sharply directed, but its best feature is the writing, which, with its wit and perception, is strongly character-driven and does not simply chase laughs.
The gloom of a stand-up comic at the realisation that his wife leaving him has deprived him of his main source of material is nicely caught by Rafferty, and Watson is delightful as an initially chirpy girl in a monologue about the realities of moving in with someone.
The comedy reaches an almost surreal plane in a sketch about a televison vet show when Costigan’s mobile phone rings and she ducks backstage to take the call, infuriating her fellow actors.
It is clever writing on a quite a sophisticated level, particularly Burton’s beautifully understated monologue as the mother of an Australian farm boy killed while serving with the army in Iraq. An oasis of heartache in the midst of all this nonsense, it is as moving as it is unexpected.
Breeding Contempt (and other mating games)
Buzz Cuts 3/10/01. Reviewed by Hang Tran
‘Do you come here often?’ ‘How do you like your breakfast in the morning?’ Plus seemingly every other cheesy pick up line ever uttered is what you are confronted with during the opening segment of Breeding Contempt. From the same creators of the hit 2000 Fringe show Femme, Breeding Contempt is an animated take on modern relationships.
The small unassuming stage erected at The Laundry was the ideal setting to explore the rapture and pitfalls of the relationships we all have had throughout our lives. The show itself paralleled itself to an actual relationship; it felt at times that the audience was in fact having a torrid affair with the performers (Bridgette Burton, Christina Costigan, Rowan Francis and Stephen Shinkfield). They charmed us with their harmonious songs, they made us laugh with their funny accents, they made us think by telling us about their past relationships, between lovers, friends and family. And just like every relationship it had its ups and its downs. Some parts though did run a little too long, while a couple others over dramatized what only required simple storytelling.
But much of the show worked, like the intelligent portrait of the relationship between two people narrated through the use of messages left on an answering machine or the simultaneous recounting of two couples breaking up. With the show moving through many different tones and emotions with the use of many different and clever narrative techniques.
But like any enduring relationship the negative aspects were nearly always outweighed by the abundance of positives. Breeding Contempt wasn’t the best I’ve ever had but I thought it showed promise, so it was somewhat upsetting to reach the shows rather discouraging conclusion. ‘It’s not you it’s us’ and ‘Maybe we should see other people.’