Left – Michelle Lim Davidson and Sandy Gore. Cover – Sandy Gore and Michelle Lim Davidson. Photos – Prudence Upton
What would you do if your mother started talking to plants? And what if they started talking back…?
Sue (Sandy Gore) is woman who has so long been defined by her roles as a wife and mother to three, that when all her adult children have moved out and her husband suddenly drops dead, she finds herself succumbing not only to grief and loneliness, but something of a personal crisis. Not quite a crisis of identity, nor even one of purpose per se (being a retiree), but rather of how to reassert a sense of ownership over her own life. Widowhood does not seem a label she is keen to adopt, and Sue is in a hurry to divest herself of her late husband’s possessions, somewhat to the dismay of her uncomprehending children.
Because more than her need to be rid of her husband’s personal effects, or even in noticing of how little else in the house was truly related to herself alone, Sue has realised that her children, all busy with their own adult lives, really aren’t paying attention to her as she attempts to reach out and express her deepening depression and inability to move on. She needs someone to talk to. So Sue buys a potplant. And names it Clare. She starts talking to it. Because if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that a plant won’t interrupt you.
Things start getting stranger though, when Clare the potplant starts to walk and talk to Sue, and sleep in her son’s old bedroom. Once her three children discover this, their own lives each coincidentally start to unravel in unexpected yet achingly inevitable ways.
For while this is Sue’s story, her children are each suffering in their own rights. Youngest daughter Naomi (Briallen Clake) is an eccentric and emotionally fragile stoner, the designated “screw-up” of the family who can’t hold down a job. By contrast, the elder daughter Erin (Helen Dallimore) is always trying to be in charge, a high-powered literary agent juggling an irresponsible husband and bratty children she is starting to inexorably resent. While son Daniel (Garth Holcombe) discovers that focusing too much on his academic career has led to relationship collapse. His boyfriend breaks up with him, seemingly out of the blue, driving Daniel to drink.
Could this unexpected appearance of Clare, the personification of a potplant (Michelle Lim Davidson), be the one to bring people together and start the healing process, or will these adults, rapidly regressing into childhood insecurities, be too freaked out by this bizarre botanical houseguest that their concern for Sue’s safety and sanity will cause everything to collapse around them?
It is tempting to discuss what happens next, but this is a theatregoing experience enhanced by a lack of foreknowledge or preconceptions. Things aren’t necessarily as surreal as they may first appear, but that isn’t to say that they aren’t still decidedly weird, and occasionally pretty hilarious. Kit Brookman’s play isn’t exactly a comedy though, nor even a “dark comedy”, yet it certainly contains considerable humour juxtaposed with some fairly sobering meditations on loneliness, as well as the mercurial nature of how one variably defines self-worth through relationships and personal achievements. It is also, ultimately, a look at depression, and the unlikely ways we can possibly learn to reconnect and get through it.
With an excellent cast at the top of their game under Elsie Edgerton-Till’s direction, The Plant is a play that will definitely amuse and provoke, but depending on your own personal experiences relating to loss, aging, and strained family dynamics, one that may pack more of a punch than expected.
Ensemble Theatre presents
by Kit Brookman
Director Elsie Edgerton-Till
Venue: Ensemble Theatre | 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli, NSW, 2061
Dates: 13 July – 5 Aug, 2017
Tickets: $42 – $71
Bookings: 02 9929 0644 | www.ensemble.com.au