Toast | Maiden Voyage Theatre CompanyLeft – Alison van Reeken. Cover – Amy Mathews, Anna Lindstedt and Samantha Maclean. Photos – Daniel James Grant

Strong examination of family ties and the experience of grief.

Three sisters consider their relationships with their parents, their partners and each other in the aftermath of their mother’s sudden death. Candice, the eldest, takes charge of the crisis and drives everyone along. Battling her own demons, Alex is counting her days, one at a time. Youngest, fostered and adopted Sydney finds her past, present and future fear of loss overwhelming. Each with her own set of memories, their communications are enmeshed in a complex code of actions, emotions and infuriation with each other. The dense sisterly conversations are decoded by the inadvertent intrusion of Gwen, the real estate agent contracted by Candice to sell the property. Suddenly the notion of home and belonging has an edge, as each sister tries to save her own world from spinning out of control.

Alison van Reeken as Candice perfectly captures the responsible first born, tired and frustrated after a lifetime of wrangling siblings and parents. Her outburst at discovering the differences in parenting between her childhood memories and those of her sisters’ captures a gem of sibling insight – I was trial, she was error and you are the result! Amy Mathews as Alex treads the dark line between comedy and tragedy, taking the alcoholic demons of her character and trying to find a brighter future. Mathews captures nuances and the toughness of the character, never allowing the tragic to become pathetic, with an edge to any cries for help. Sydney’s stoicism, reticence and deep ability to trust are captured by Anna Lindstedt, able to flop on a couch and simultaneously convey a sense of loss and growing hope. Her character’s complex and ever shifting relationship with her sisters drives discussion whether or not she is in the scene, Lindstedt rising to the challenge not to disrupt the continuity. Samantha Maclean’s Gwen brings a light touch to moments of deep seated conflict, comic relief combining with a deft hand to clarify complex disagreements and to lift the lid on family secrets.

Writer and producer Liz Newell tackles themes of family conflict, love and grief, her distinctly individual characters and their responses capturing the universal nature of these experiences. Director and dramaturg Emily McLean brings the script to life, each sister and her memories holding attention and allowing spaces between for each audience member to respond with their own memories and associated feelings.

Technical support is tight throughout, Rachael Dease’s sound design and composition sympathetic to the many emotional twists, and Chloe Ogilvie’s lighting design spot on at creating unobtrusive mood and defining the space. Sally Phipps’ set design raises the bar, with a suburban garage complete with stained concrete floor and the detritus of raising a family all piled onto shelves around the wall. Further reflecting the script, the flotsam and jetsam of one family’s holidays, discarded hobbies and outmoded furniture captures the shared experience of many, triggering personal reflections through the audience.

A beautifully considered work, bringing laughter, tears and bitter-sweet memories as well as its own considerations of ever fresh topics, Toast confirms that family is the best and worst part of our lives.

The Blue Room Theatre and Maiden Voyage Theatre Company present
by Liz Newell

Director Emily McLean

Venue: The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre
Dates: 9 – 27 May 2017
Tickets: $18 – 28

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