Owning Our Past: Review of SITCO’s An Ordinary Person
Now playing with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company is Robert Allan’s new play, An Ordinary Person (2013). This is a refreshing piece of theatre: it tells a genuine and by turns touching story, with Allan taking the issue of victimhood as his springboard. Although such a topic could threaten to drag a story into unrelenting angst, to Allan and director Julie Baz’s credit An Ordinary Person never does. At the opening Aggie and Topher (short for Christopher) present an old married couple who are set in their ways and comfortable with each other. However, they aren’t without a veiled past. Aggie became pregnant at the age of 14 and was made to give up her daughter for adoption, the story being that Topher had forced himself upon her. Only now, at the age of 35 has their daughter, Louise, sought them out as part of her own healing process.
Meanwhile a young couple, Nathan and Fiona, are struggling to maintain their relationship. Nathan is a bit of a drop kick boyfriend, but to his credit he is trying to turn things around by setting up a small gardening business. Their paths are set collide with Topher’s. It’s when this happens that we come to see the consequences of trauma and repression when people are pushed to the edge. There are a couple of twists in this play so one wouldn’t want to give any of it away. Needless to say, there are some well-crafted and nuanced characters in this piece who have and continue to make difficult life decisions, though they genuinely attempt to be the best they can be, particularly Topher.
This play is making an important statement on what it is to be a victim. It explores how victimhood defines us and how we deal with it, for almost all of the characters have suffered in their past. We can ignore and repress these feelings, but this doesn’t lead to healing; we can make a fetish out of our suffering, but this only locks us into the past and prevents us from living. In the end, Aggie proves that the only way forward is to accept what has happened and recognize what that means for you, but ultimately to let the past be the past.
Cherilyn Price plays Aggie Reynolds, the mother that would never be. Aggie barely copes with loss and it affects her courage in life. In performance Price gives us Aggie’s struggle and is clearly a strong presence on stage. Her daughter Louise (played by Mel Dodge) similarly struggles with a traumatic past. In fact, she defines herself by it. Louise attends everything from support groups and healing centres, to meditation and stone sculpting, all in an effort to finally ‘deal’ with her past. Dodge gives us this ‘love-to-hate’ character, and is a wonderfully tight screw in every scene. Unfortunately both Dodge and Price deliver at times contrived emotional heights instead of finding them through an organic reveal. This could just be an issue of opening night jitters, and they’ll hopefully settle throughout the run.
The couple across town is played by Carla Nirella and Jai Higgs. They become intricately connected in Aggie’s story. Higgs plays Nathan, a troubled drop kick attempting to kick the habit and start anew. Higgs plays a relatively simple character but proves to be a hulking physical presence. He gives us some good moments where we see a man slipping back to his dark past. Nirella as Fiona was impressive for producing a nicely measured performance. She showed us the complexities of a long term but tumultuous relationship, where leaving threatens to abandon. Nirella continued to show us how hard this woman struggles to breathe in a partnership that has come to surround her life.
The stand outs for the evening were David Jeffery and Alexander Butt playing Topher, and his younger incarnation respectively. Jeffery arguably produced the most complex character, harmonizing the multiple layers within the man. He presented that instantly recognizable Australian bloke, whilst at the same time negotiating the deep set repression that haunted his character. It was a difficult task which he more than pulled off, producing supple performance. Butt had an equally demanding role, and matched old Topher in mannerisms and energy.
This is a nicely crafted story, and Allan has a knack for the nuts and bolts scene work, whilst maintaining his broader theme. The first act of the play could have been worked a touch so that some of the revelations of the second act didn’t quite come out of left field, but this is a minor point in an otherwise well-constructed play. This is one of the best productions at SITCO this year and well worth the trip in.
An Ordinary Person is playing with the Sydney Independent Theatre Company until the 16th of November. For more details see their website: http://www.sitco.net.au/