The Only Child | The Hayloft Project

The Only Child | The Hayloft ProjectPhotos - Patrick Boland

I had high expectations of this play prior to seeing it. The reputation of the Hayloft Project precedes each new venture, so the ensembles newest production The Only Child had the weight of expectancy bearing down on it.

But it was not only the Hayloft Project that had the reputation in the case of The Only Child. The original play by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, Lille Eyolf or in English ‘Little Eyolf’ has a reputation too. The Hayloft interpretation of this play, as written by Thomas Henning and Simon Stone, has used this supposition to create a distinctive mark of its own.

The duo have departed from the flamboyant Eurocentric script, instead embracing the gutsy, in your face realness that Australians recognise in drama. Having said that, the pair has credited Ibsen’s work by intricately weaving their own threads into the original fabric to create this exceptional adaptation.

A point to mention before I go on, this play was specifically written and designed for the Downstairs Theatre at the iconic Belvoir. Ergo, the set (courtesy of Claude Marcos) and the one scene for the duration of the play being a beautiful, enamelled claw foot bathtub atop a platform of polished floorboards.

The Only Child is essentially a play about the dysfunction that exists within relationships, both familial and sexual. The dysfunction under the microscope in this story is that of husband and wife Alfred (Tom Wren) and Rita (Shelly Lauman), Alfred’s sister Asta (Anne-Louise Sarks), her one time lover and family friend Henrik (Gareth Davies) and of course the fabled only child little Eyolf.

From the bathroom of Alfred and Rita’s home, one gets to observe the harrowing account of the birth, life and death of their only child, Eyolf. The disabled child, who is only present throughout the play in thought and deed, is the catalyst of the breakdown, unravelling and eventual reformation of this small family unit.

The prowess of the production is the acting. One could say so about any play, but this play is different. With just one prop, approximately four by four metres of floorboard and eventually no costumes for three of the four actors, the acting really is the only thing on stage. With so little outside of themselves at their disposal, the four unite to create truly enigmatic theatre.

Propelling the action is Alfred and Rita’s failing marriage, at the source of which is their son Eyolf. The couple’s fighting begins in the opening sequence and builds in intensity as the relationship frays…

Lauman is superb as Rita, a woman whose life is derailed by love and the birth of a child she did not want. Her hysteria and resentful tirades create an anxiety within the space that leaves no one unaffected. Wren as Alfred equals Rita’s wrath with Roman ferocity whilst fostering a self-pitying guilt trip that makes the atmosphere fever pitch and tediously tense.

Breaking through this darkness is the most welcome comic relief in the form of conservative, politically incorrect and lovable weirdo Henrik. Davies’ character rounds off the edges of a deliberately jagged play. Henrik provides the perfect theatrical antithesis, the comedy pitted against the tragedy, and proves to be the anti-hero in the moral of the story.

Alfred’s sister Asta represented by Anne-Louise Sarks, is the gentler, maternal character who plays an understated role in the drama. Asta is the sanity amidst the madness, remaining loyal and supportive of her brother and his jealous wife with a matronly diligence til their suffering doth endeth.

Director Simon Stone states that the play exists at the intersection of 9 collaborators’ contributions, and if it works, this is why. Well it does work, and that is definitely why!

The Hayloft Project in association with B Sharp presents
by Simon Stone with Thomas Henning
Inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s Little Eyolf

Directed by Simon Stone

Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Preview: Thursday 17 September
Opening: Friday 18 September
Dates: 19 September – 11 October
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

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