Winterfall Theatre Company’s production of A Kind of Alaska is damn fine theatre. Director Trent Baker is one of the founding members of Melbourne’s acclaimed Red Stitch Theatre and he and co-founder of Winterfall, Michele Williams, are committed to producing four plays a year in The Theatre Husk. A good thing too: Winterfall’s is a first class staging of the story of a once-young woman awakened after 30 years from a bizarre sleeping sickness.
It is the saddest and oddest of stories, and it actually happened in Europe after WWI, that people fell into a kind of a coma and some who survived were eventually awakened. Pinter’s play was inspired by Oliver Sacks’s novel, Awakenings, also the title of a 1990 film starring Robert de Niro.
Harold Pinter’s A Kind of Alaska is an intense, meticulously paced play, with much left to the audience’s imagination, raising more questions than it answers. Fortunately, this show is satisfyingly well-developed, performed and directed, with the silences, pauses and rhythms of Pinter’s script eloquently explored by the cast. The set is minimal and effective, well serving the hunger and intimacy of the play.
The central character is Deborah, superbly brought to life by Michele Williams. Holding the space magnificently, Williams doesn’t miss a beat. Her fleeting expressions reveal the wrenches of Deborah’s internal struggle to absorb the horrific, isolated situation in which she finds herself. In a series of monologues Deborah spills out recollections from her childhood and young adolescence; she is a feisty and funny character who brings her personal courage and the breeding of her rather British background to the fore. We see the lively child and the young woman on the cusp of exploring life and romance, then the deep sadness as she slowly begins to comprehend the implications of her fate. We come to know – not only by what she says but also by what she doesn’t – just how much she can take in of what has happened, just how deeply she can allow herself to experience her plight.
Phil Roberts as the doctor who has been by her side for three decades is excellent; likewise Felicity Soper playing the sister who has also devoted her life to caring for Deborah. There is a palpable sense of the melancholy of three lives lost with the unspoken needs of the two carers acutely present in the space. Beneath Deborah’s fragmented recollections as she lurches towards comprehension lie the questions as to why these two have given up so much of their own.
This is masterful theatre. Nothing is lacking, neither in the convincing performances, nor the narrative arc of the play nor the psychological integrity of the story. Well worth seeing - and the denizens of Northcote are lucky to have this new company right outside their collective front doors.
Winterfall Theatre Company and The Theatre Husk present
A Kind of Alaska
by Harold Pinter
Director Trent Baker
Venue: The Theatre Husk, 161A Heidelberg Rd, Northcote
Dates: 11 June - 4 July, 2010
Times: Wed to Sat 8pm, Sunday 6pm
Tickets: $29 full $25 conc and $15 preview
Bookings: 0432 822 520 www.winterfalltheatre.com or www.theatrehusk.com.au