The staff are friendly, the banter flowing, the environment chic and minimalistic, and the intrigue in the air undeniable. However while writer-animateur Michelle St Anne certainly aims to impart a great message, her unclear plot prevents that ambition.
Composed largely of moments in time wherein characters recall pivotal encounters with lovers, and the drawn out days following their loss and search for that familiar figure, the audience take on the role of unintended voyeurs, peeping into the lives of three women. Trapped in Joel West's modern, Melbourne-infused set of scattered tables and chairs, the cast (Kate Gorman, Susan Miller, Gabriella Quinn and Michelle St Anne herself) live out fables of lives under simple names; Miss Place, Lana and Betty, that belong in fairytales, not in preserved moments of grief. They seek respectively a detached and missing lover, a possible partner who is yet to come, and a girlfriend who has recently passed away. Props – a blue satin nightie, a boxful of gifts – become personal manifestations of what they have lost. And, at times, overly introspective narrative is masterfully delivered by the cast. Overlapping moments of dialogue and line swapping blend emotion and character into a trance-like ambiguity.
St Anne dazzles in her role as Betty, although the similarities between the character and her personal life force reality into sharp view. She has mentioned in previous interviews her girlfriend perishing of cancer – and the same situation occurs for her character. Yet her portrayal of a character both innocent and broken is achingly familiar. Miller as the omnipresent Narrator casts a spell upon her viewers, despite being little more than a follower, an observer of the brief snatches in time. An instance where she imitates the sound of a car crash demonstrates her talent and jars the audience.
The construct of A Little Room is clever. Shimmering loops of music from musicians such as Jared Lewis and the Alister Spence Trio play through the background, attempting to immerse viewers in the world of the play. Light must be paid particular attention to – Kris Chainey's work is perhaps what captures the most attention and sets the mood. Moments of dim and sparse lighting tenderly underscore the careful wrapping of gifts, harshly silhouettes performers against a video of faceless gardens, and shines, for a moment, a brief glimpse of brilliant morning and hope for all the creeping darkness. It's much like stepping into a dream-like recreation of blurred moments. The performance's timelines looping back to the very start of the three women's encounter is just another reminder of how circular loss and longing may be.
However for all it's thought, deliberate movement and delicate playing with light and sound, A Little Room is let down by the one thing that defines it; it's vagueness and non-linear plot. St Anne's characters are more creations, possibilities of grief, and their routines, their chance meetings and dialogue as they patter about a timeless and ambiguous place is not a story – it's an exploration of how grief may affect. In the end, it's up to the audience to take away their individual impression of what the performance seeks to convey.
The Living Room Theatre presents
A Little Room
by Michelle St Anne
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 15 – 24 March, 2012
Times: Tues – Sun @ 8pm
Tickets: $32 Full, $26 Concession, $25 Grps 4+ and Cheap Tues
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com