Left – Eloise Mignon. Cover – Kim Gyngell, Eloise Mignon and Julie Forsyth. Photos – Jeff Busby.
Alice has returned. She’s been away for a long time, and now she’s back. Back at home. It’s not quite clear where she’s been...but everything is new. Everything needs to be relearned, remembered or relived and as she is instructed and encouraged by the people around, she begins a trek through a terrain that is all at once wondrous and fresh, yet restrictive and cumbersome.
Return to Earth navigates the re-entry of Alice (Eloise Mignon) back into the life of her family and friends after being M.I.A for an unspecified, yet considerable, amount of time. Where she’s been is unclear but it’s calmly accepted that she has been far away, and witnessed things that mere mortals aren’t privy to. People have died during her absence, and people have been born. Her mother Wendy (Julie Forsythe) has lived through the trial of having cancer, and her brother Tom (Tim Ross) has lost his beloved wife and is raising a sick child on his own. People’s lives have progressed with a mixture of hardship and joy, and Alice has been oblivious to it all. She disappeared with no warning, made no contact while she was away and, even though she’s back, is initially unwilling to commit to whether she’ll stay. It has the potential to smack of a definite selfishness on Alice’s part – but throughout the piece the audience witness as she is held to account for her actions and ultimately decides whether she will stay or not. Or is the decision made for her? It’s hard to tell. How that’s received depends on whether the individual viewing is a fan of ambiguity or not.
The cast in Return to Earth all deliver solid performances and it is a good ensemble piece, with defined characters and an understanding of how they individually function within the story. Julie Forsythe is wonderfully delicate as Wendy and the scenes in which she and Eloise Mignon converse as Mother and Daughter are a highlight. They are incredibly poignant and it’s quite heart breaking to understand just how much this woman missed her child during her absence.
Written in 2006 by Lally Katz, Return to Earth was an examination for Katz of the ever profound “Saturn Return” years; those years during an individual’s late 20s and early 30s where life seems to shift and settle and a trajectory can be forever altered. By her own admission, the audience is invited to watch a heightened version of Katz’s own family in Return to Earth and see in Alice elements of Katz herself. It’s a personal examination from a particular time in the writer’s life and the questions raised about an individual’s purpose, and place in the grand design, are universal. They’re not new or surprising, but they are relevant. The beauty in Katz’s writing is her ability to create dialogue that is comfortable and normal, yet effortlessly dissects the fabric of the ‘every day’. The flaw with her writing in this piece is the inconsistency.
Under Aidan Fennessy’s Direction, Return to Earth is a considered production. Key moments within the piece feel very organic and even though the story deals with a heightened occurrence in a naturalistic way, it does not seem out of place. The set design by Claude Marcos is a great compliment also to the world created in Return to Earth. Spanning across the stage and beneath the feet of the actors, it incorporates the implied vastness of where Alice has been and coils it all up like a spring beneath the action.
Return to Earth is good production. It tells a story, and it tells it well. The problems that exist within the piece seem to stem from a lack of stakes. The stakes are high at times but they are dealt with in a somewhat resigned fashion and all is easily forgiven, or easily dismissed. There’s a keen desire to invest in the characters and the situations they find themselves in, but the audience are never really given the opportunity. There are definitely some great moments in this production, but they seem too few to sustain a vested interest in the lives of the characters. By no means does that imply there’s no interest at all – there’s just not enough to make this production as satisfying as it could be.
Melbourne Theatre Company present
Return To Earth
by Lally Katz
Directed by Aidan Fennessy
Venue: The Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio | 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Dates: 4 November – 17 December
Tickets: From $61.10 ($30 under 30s)