The Store Room is a great venue. A small black box theatre in North Fitzroy that has made its name over recent years by presenting some outstanding works from emerging local artists. Two of the productions from their 2005 season have recently been presented by the Malthouse Theatre – Ross Mueller's Construction of the Human Heart and Anita Hegh and Peter Evans' The Yellow Wallpaper.
During the first half of 2006 Artistic Directors Ben Harkin and Todd MacDonald took time to re-think the direction of the company and the result was the recent launch of the Store Room Theatre Workshop. Instead of offering a full year's programming, the company has evolved into a community of Associate Artists. Each year artists are invited to develop work with the company over an extended period of time. In 2006 community members include, amongst others, director Wesley Enoch, performer/creator Clare Bartholomew, actor/director Todd MacDonald and writer/musician/visual artist Robert Reid.
Robert Reid's work A Mile in her Shadow is the first work to be produced by Store Room Theatre Workshop. It has been created and developed over a long period and was presented as part of the regular play-readings held by The Store Room last year. It is based on Reid's own experience with Dissociation Disorder.
True (Ben Harkin) describes himself as being trapped in a skin made up of three parts; the yellow is the good guy, the white is the bad guy and the middle is the blackness he lives within. Despite his best efforts his mind is constantly bombarded with unwanted thoughts and he cannot control his own imagination. He tries desperately to stabilise his life and to have a 'normal' relationship with She (Katie-Jean Harding). But as She says, all he does is turn the people who love you into heroin addicts and then ... turn off the drip!
Robert Reid admits that when he first wrote the script it was little more than a collection of short scenes, broken dialogue, prose and confused and enraged rantings. For this production Reid has worked closely with director Aiden Fennessy and the two performers, Ben Harkin and Katie-Jean Harding to distance the events from his own personal experience and develop a narrative around a fictionalised relationship.
The audience is separated from the performers by black scrim, just as the performers are cut off from the world outside. The ceiling is an upside down sitting room, symbolic of True's life. There are two chairs and two performers in the uncluttered space that is the stage. The dialogue is fast and fractured, looping back and forward in time, and the scenes are episodic. Despite this there is a sense of a narrative, the narrative of a man struggling with his demons, reaching out to others and to his 'true' self, sometimes making contact but only ever briefly.
Both performers are excellent. Ben Harkin is totally convincing as True, manic and disoriented one minute, able to clearly articulate his problems the next: You don't recognise you in the mirror. Harding is equally good, moving easily from the love interest to the psychiatrist or nurse and back. The words are often poetic, there are some humourous references that briefly serve to lighten the mood and a judicious use of movement adds another dimension to the dialogue. The sound is effective reminding one of the 'white noise' that constantly intrudes on True's mind. The lighting is well used to help create and highlight the mood swings and the whole is brought together well by director Aiden Fennessy.
In the intimacy of The Store Room Theatre this is a confronting and emotional work. However, if you are into innovative and challenging theatre then this is a performance you should not miss.
Store Room Theatre Workshop presents
A MILE IN HER SHADOW
By Robert Reid
Venue: The Store Room - 131 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy (above the Parkview Hotel)
Dates: Fri 1 Dec – Sun 10 Dec 2006
Times: 8pm, 6pm Sun (no show Mon)
Tickets: $27 full / $19 conc / $15 preview (Dec 1-3)
Bookings: www.thestoreroom.com.au or 9481 8496