Following the childhood and adolescence of Elizabeth (Maja Liwszyc), Frames considers some big issues as it unfolds the development of Lizzie from carefree 10 year-old to self-loathing 16 year-old with anorexia. Scrutiny of her family is from her perspective, scathing assessments of her “social drinker” father, Ken (Maitland Schnaars), “fat” and “out of touch” mother, Barbara (Angelique Malcolm) ringing true to parents suffering similar criticisms from their own teenagers as well as for teens enduring the obtuseness of their own parents. Little sister Jackie (Keren Schlink) and boyfriend Ben (Nick Pages-Oliver) have places in her life, but these are not analysed as ruthlessly as her parents’ failings.
Frames builds around the revelations of each of the characters, with several alter egos to consider in Elizabeth’s case, developed around various versions of her name. Lizzie to her family, Eliza to her friends, Beth as she battles to stay out of hospital and Elizabeta as she identifies with a medieval religious figure (closely modelled on Catherine of Siena) who aligns her battle for control over her food intake with fleshly mortification and sacrifice for God. Not only are body image issues and the mental health implications of eating disorders considered, but debates around substance abuse, social standing, marital ideals, religious fixations, consumerism and honesty, each addressed from a multiplicity of angles.
Liwszyc portrays Elizabeth in a gruelling ride through teenage discovery and disillusion, keeping energy levels high in every scene. Malcolm’s Barbara is the epitome of the frazzled wife and mother, mourning lost dreams while battling to keep her family together, finding herself endlessly criticised. Schnaars plays Ken as a distant father, providing creature comforts but losing sight of a happy home in the confusion of renovations, boat trips and swimming pools – while this portrayal is effective and complements the frantic energy of his wife and daughters, there are times where his sodden delivery feels wooden and there is a missed chance for character development later in the play. Schlink is a joy to watch, it is just a pity that as the foil to the rest of the dysfunctional characters, she is given relatively little to explore beyond bringing attention to others’ deceptions. Similarly, Pages-Oliver is effective and projects a sense of enjoyment in each of his minor roles.
The rapidly-escalating second half sees family breakdown, increased substance abuse and also a youth suicide – the death seems forced into the plot, extra extra material for teachers and parents to discuss with young audience members rather than an integral part of what is otherwise a cohesive, complex whole.
Appropriately for a teenage target audience, sound is used sparingly during the dialogue-heavy scenes, allowing words to be clearly received, but the soundtrack between scenes ties in with the changing moods of the play with a selection of topical, popular and current tracks. Lighting design by Aaron Stirk impresses with its dynamic qualities, emphasising key points in the action and complementing the simple set. The eponymous frames that surround the central table and chairs are pressed into service as windows, doorways, mirrors, photo frames and separating screens, amongst other features, a clever device that Director Helen Doig exploits to bring further layers of meaning to the play’s many points of discussion.
Frames is clearly-written and accessible, full of information and brutally honest about contemporary Australian family life. While it may be crammed to overflowing with food for thought and discussion, they would be thoughts and discussions well worth having for teens and those who live and work with them.
Act-Belong-Commit and Class Act Theatre present
by Louise Helfgott
Directed by Helen Doig
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre
Dates: 21 – 31 May 2014
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au | 132 849
Venue: Mandurah Performing Arts Centre
Dates: 4 – 7 June 2014
Bookings: www.manpac.com.au | 9550 3900