Written by Suzanne Hawley. Directed by Kim Hardwick. Set design Tom Bannerman. Costume design Robert Bayliss. Lighting design Martin Kinnane. Sound design Patrick Howard. Composer Leonardo Bosi. Di Smith in association with Arts On Tour. The Q. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. April 28-29 2023.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
The pre-show sound track to Di Smith’s production of Wild Thing by Suzanne Hawley gives little indication of the serious issue about to unfold on the Q Theatre stage. Cindi Lauper’s rowdy rendition of Girls Just Want to have Fun and Bobby Rydell’s version of Volare suggest a time of youthful celebration and soaring dreams. The lights come up on four teenage schoolgirls on an art excursion to draw a landscape scene on the banks of a river. The year is 1956. It is a time of innocence and hopeful visions of a future life. Jackie (Di Smith) is the class rebel, a free spirit with a talent for art and a desire to become an artist. Lizzie (Helen O’Connor) dreams of becoming asecretary. After all this is the Fifties and Hawley reminds us that the opportunities for women were limited and the expectations constrained. Frances (Katrina Foster) echoes the choice with her wish to pursue a career in nursing while Susan (Di Adams) dreams of marriage and children.
|Di Smith, Di Adams,Katrina Foster,Lewis Fitzgerald and Helen O'Connor|
Together they are The Musketeers, inspired by Alexander Dumas’ tales of adventure and bravery in the spirit of one for all and all for one. Theirs is a special friendship that has endured throughout their lives. Hawley propels her characters through time to when they are in their Sixties and we learn that Jackie has been diagnosed with Alzheimers. It is a cruel twist of fate and the Musketeers are confronted with the need to protect and help their friend. As we journey through Hawley’s flashback scenes to the glorious overseas pilgrimage, the successful careers, the marriages and divorces, the trials and the tribulations and the love story of Jackie and Marco (Tony Poli) we are faced with the same dilemma that Jackie’s friends face, “What would we do in this situation?”
Hawley’s play assumes a significance that is far more revealing than a glimpse at Life’s time altered tapestry. Jackie’s successful exhibitions gain a poignancy as she descends into the dark abyss of her disease. Susan’s fervent faith is tested when she has an affair. Lizzie questions the literary virtue of her novels and Frances shakes off the shackles of an unhappy marriage and finds happiness with Jackie’s neighbour Geoff (Lewis Fitzgerald) . And yet through it all the women’s friendship not only survives but rises to the challenge of”all for one”.
|Di Adams,Katrina Foster, Di Smith, Helen O'Connor in Wild Thing|
Smith captures the pain and the pathos of the Alzheimer sufferer perfectly. The fog of confusion and disorientation strikes a chord that arouses empathy. Director Kim Hardwick keeps the stage action fluid as actors move between scenes and back and forth through time and events. Poli is authentic as Marco, Jackie’s husband in the flashbacks and as her son Michael, distraught at his mother’s condition. Fitzgerald convincingly plays a variety of roles including an unsympathetic attendant at the nursing home for dementia sufferers. It is a distiurbing portrayal that resonates with anybody who has witnessed the brusque treatment of helpless patients.
The tightly knitted ensemble carefully charts Hawley’s final dilemma. What is a friend’s responsibility if an Alzheimer patient seeks to end their life. How would one confront this dilemma if it were a personal conflict? Hawley’s writing bravely presents this conundrum. The notion of assisted suicide and humane euthanasia may be abhorrent to some and an act of love to others. Is the quality of mercy strained?
|Di Adams as Susan and Helen O'Connor as Elizabeth in Wild Thing|
This is a dilemma that needs to be played with utmost sensitivity and a deep regard for truthful respect. Producer Smith’s touring company have created an excellent ensemble piece that deserved a much larger audience than attended the Q on a wet and windy Autumn night in Queanbeyan. What Hawley and the company have achieved is an insight into Alzheimer’s scourge of fractured dreams and lost memories of the happy and the sad times, the joys and the triumphs, the failures and the successes, that is the individual experience of Life. Wild Thing is an important piece of theatre that speaks not only to our hearts and minds but to our time.