Baby Blues: Review of Darlinghurst Theatre’s Every Second
Vanessa Bates’ play, Every Second (2012)has a lot of heart. It tells the simple story of two couples who are unable to conceive. It is the careful rendering of how the inability to have children holds the potential to destroy a relationship.
Tim and Meg are going the all-natural way, plenty of herbal tea, egg whites to assist sperm mobility (the things you learn at the theatre) and a Chinese medicine guru to guide them through all the dos and don’ts. Bill and Jen are walking a different path, attempting the invasive process of IVF treatment. The dichotomy between the natural and artificial is a point that is raised several times through the play and manifests itself in the form of their local man-made lake (it’s still beautiful). The play charts the trials, stresses and pressures that the couples place on one another as they struggle with their infertility. Bates taps into the (very real) void created by childlessness. Bill states at one point that it’s like dragging a black hole around. Having children is probably one of the very few natural desires a person can have, especially when it comes to finding meaning in your life. Without it, all that’s left is a feeling of emptiness, and behind that is a fear that the love you have for your partner may never be enough. Fear becomes the emotion that each of the characters must confront; they try to avoid it with distractions, like dogs, taxis and the ballet, but eventually they all have to face the reality that is life with an incomplete family.
This all sounds very heavy, but to Bates’ credit she has weaved a lot of comedy into the script which balances out what could have otherwise been an emotionally draining drama. Arguably, some of her stylistic choices may be a little contrived, like the group narration that opens the play. She doesn’t rely on it for long however, and it doesn’t impede on the action. Each of her characters are endowed with defined personalities, and while this isn’t an overtly realist piece, the way in which each of the characters responds to and deals with their crisis – even to the point of sabotaging their relationships – rings true, allowing the audience to connect with what is being portrayed. It is a welcome experience to see a group of characters that all go through a defined arc, from hope, frustration, desperation and resignation in their own individual ways.
Andy McDonell’s set presents a wooden spiral, almost resembling a DNA coil. The spiral is filled with secret knocks and crannies, many of which hide the production’s props (minimal). It is a clever enhancement to a stage devoid of natural intimacy – though in performance, it only just proves it’s utility. Director Shannon Murphy probably earned its strip during the humorous interpretive sperm dance (this play has everything).
You need a strong cast for such an intimate four hander – and thankfully, that’s exactly what you get. Simon Corfield plays Tim, partner to Meg, though an increasingly reluctant party to the syngamy bandwagon. Corfield presents us with an entire spectrum, from Tim, the patient and decent man, to Tim, the cool and callus stranger. It is particularly impressive how Corfield morphs Tim’s hurt into Tim’s subsequent hurtfulness. The two are inextricably linked and the change is executed flawlessly.
Glenn Hazeldine plays Bill, partner to Jen (and suspected cuddly teddy bear). Hazeldine is loveable, dorky and incredibly endearing. He exudes great warmth, bringing an essential balance to an otherwise disconsolate topic. In doing so, Hazeldine is placed squarely in the mentor role, which he pulls off with great nuance. The struggle of the common man is as much Hazeldine’s as it is yours or mine.
A stand out for the evening was Julia Ohannessian playing Meg, a struggling 30-something, hoping to conceive. Though her character is a bit of a juvenile lead Ohannessian finds life within a desperate woman – a woman so often drowning in psychological isolation. Ohannessian’s plight is real, raw and heartbreaking. She holds nothing back, making for a highly layered and polished performance.
Last but not least, we find Georgina Symes in the role of Jen, a slightly older and slightly tougher version of Meg (though they differ enormously in outlook). Like Jen, Symes endures; she brings a well observed ‘thick-skinned’ approach to the character, which once again provides balance to the production. Assisted by some great writing, Symes finds completeness in Jen, despite the prospect of a childless marriage.
Every Second is a beautiful rendered story that has been directed and performed to an excellent standard, proof that some of the best theatre in Sydney can come from the independent sector. This is a must see. Every Second is playing at the Eternity Playhouse until the 27th of July. For more information see: http://www.darlinghursttheatre.com/