A small six year old boy smells her perfume, touches her powder and buries his face in the cup of her bra, fascinated through his senses by the femininity that encapsulates his mother. He cups her breasts, balanced in the palm of each hand, discovering their perfect symmetry, the equally distributed weight - this is the making of an engineer.
In another world, on the other side of the stage, a small girl watches the clock. She waits on her father’s ordered regimen imitating his scream of impatience to waken her own desire for freedom to be as willful and unordered as the clouds. She is shortly to fall in love - with words.
So develops a play of silence and words creating images sometimes soft and sometimes tortured. We follow two people in their touching memories through those images that are so close to our own its often painful.
This is partly the work of dramatist Enda Walsh, partly Annie Byron who plays the woman and Ralph Cotterill who plays the man. It’s partly Sarah Goodes, the director and partly production designer, Karla Urizar. It’s also partly that of Verity Hampson who designed the lighting and John Blake who orchestrated sound. But mostly it is the work of the lyrical evocation of the human mind.
This is the very spirit and execution of collaborative theatre in a brilliant interplay of memory and emotion which cannot help but touch the heart.
This is ‘The Small Things’ currently offering at Downstairs Belvoir until 9th September.
Goodes has assembled an outstanding compliment of cast and crew to deliver a tight, rhythmical interpretation of Walsh’s most recent work, commissioned as part of a tribute to ‘language’. It masterfully delivers on that most extraordinary of human gifts, the ability to communicate in word painted images, sometimes crafting them playfully and sometimes grotesque. In keeping with much of his earlier work it is a confined piece of drama without becoming claustrophobic. Only now and then is the audience allowed to come back to the confines of the space in which it is being played out.
Byron and Cotterill deliver extraordinarily sustained performances. They masterfully play off each other’s ‘nonexistent’ partner until at last there is a lightly rendered reunion in some other dimension that quickly fades back into isolation.
The core image of their world is that of victims with butchered tongues. It harks back to Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’, victims of a world that turns words to lies and truth to accommodation. Freedom is plundered by the prosaic desire to feed.
If nothing else Walsh takes his theatre seriously. In 1999 after a world tour of ‘Disco Pigs’ he ended up in hospital through sheer exhaustion. He said of himself in an interview with the Guardian ‘I always had problems with the sound of my own voice. I always felt so inarticulate’. In a world defined by product an ability to discourse in images might seem inarticulate but in Small Things his characters find a way through.
He has been likened to Samuel Beckett but the similarity is more in form than in language in which he seems closer to Brendan Behan, displaying not so much the music of a constructed rhythm but the plainer rhythms of his native Ireland, joyously irreverent yet resolutely dour.
The set is beautifully constructed leaving one in no doubt that the two characters presented are as much a part of each other as they are divorced in time and space. The costuming was meticulous, each character being reflected in its counterpart.
Cotterill never moved from his chair as we walked with him through the forest of his memory, stood freezing by the pool in revealing swimmers and frolicked in innocent fascination with his ‘chit chat’ friend played by Byron. She was in another world, one of make-believe with other ‘friends’, longing to be part of the world on the other side of the window poignantly lit with images of winter and solitude.
It is a glorious experience not to be missed.
Splinter Theatre Company in association with B Sharp presents
THE SMALL THINGS
by Enda Walsh
Venue: Belvoir St, Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Preview: Thursday August 16
Dates: Friday August 17 – Sunday 9 September
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can min $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or www.belvoir.com.au