Room to Play Productions, collaborating with Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio (Mikaela Hollonds, Producer)

Shepherds apparently swear by the old saying that an early red sky indicates a difficult day ahead. Tom Holloway’s Red Sky Morning is the superbly written corkscrew of despair that is one day in the life of a rural Australian household. The play is a window into one family’s desires, thoughts, hopes and misery—bringing the audience into the house that is shared by Woman (Heidi Manché), Man (Wayne Bassett) and Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker). In a mere 70 minutes we traverse 24 hours: from mid-night stargazing through to an evening dinner.

The character names are our first clue as to how fractured this household is. Dysfunctional people who have a desperate need to connect, but who fail to communicate. Director Beth Child reinforces that lack of communication through the isolation of the characters in their own thoughts and spaces on the stage. The scripted three columns of the play are conveyed through the (occasionally simultaneous) performance of the three interwoven monologues. The emphasis is on the thoughts of each character (and reported interactions with friends and colleagues). In stark contrast, household interactions are limited to the essentials (“Steak?” “Dad!”).

Such repression leads to a murderous, and possibly suicidal, rage that bubbles inside—barely kept in check by daily routines and a reliance on alcohol. The man goes to work, the daughter leaves early for school, and the woman drinks her way through daily household chores. Each character speaks of desires to connect, to speak, and to bring matters to a head. But they barely speak to each other, and flinch from contact.

  Pictured    (L to R): Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

Pictured (L to R): Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

Each of the three actors rise to the challenges of their roles. Manché is a compelling presence on the stage, creating a highly-believable and sympathetic picture of a woman struggling with daily existence. The physicality of her character is fully explored: the enjoyment of the evening fart, the despair at bodily changes and ageing, and the depth of her desire for touch and connection. This is a powerful performance that leads us to ponder what drove Woman to withdraw, to drink, to rage against the church—and just why she doesn't “break the window.”

Kennedy-Tucker delivers a believable portrayal of teenage angst, confusion, desire, fear and rage.  I really enjoyed the flipping between the child-like happiness of watching the “pink” morning sky, the tragedy that is a “zit,” the desire to conform at school (including a rage at the uncaring comments of so-called friends), and the real fear at any expression of emotion by her parents. And, for me, Bassett was at his best when conveying the two extremes of the darkness in his life: the escape and possibility of the night-time at home, and the depression and dark rage inspired by the daily grind at work. We experienced his joy at light of the stars, and his genuine desire to connect with his wife in their bed—and feared for what his depression might lead him to do.

It’s not all depressing. There are moments of humour (and farting), of joy (“I bloody love looking at the stars”), and hope (teenage dreams). The day draws to an end with the possibility of a cathartic conclusion. But we are left wondering if this family will ever achieve a resolution, as “we start” heralds dinner, not conversation. The fragile glass of the window holds until another morning.

  Pictured: Exterior, Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio, Newmarket (Picture Credit: Catherine Lawrence)

Pictured: Exterior, Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio, Newmarket (Picture Credit: Catherine Lawrence)

I must confess to being a fan of Room to Play Productions: a talented team who perform, direct and produce…opening up some great spaces for new theatre in Brisbane. The Newmarket Lisa Taylor King Gallery & Studio provides an ideal setting for this show; a tin-roofed shed that evokes a rural home, where a window takes centre stage. Lauren Salloway’s lighting design is perfectly judged. The Venetian blinds filter in the changing bars of the colours of the vast sky outside: from a midnight blue, to the warning pink of the morning sky ahead of the harsh white of daily reality, before returning to the bleak blackness of the advancing night. The production is equally well-served with the detailed work of Jaymee Richards (Costume), Andre Butterworth (Sound) and the rest of the team (including Delsey Martin, Stage Manager).

In the Director’s program note, Child connects the play with works by Mozart. For me, it’s more Beethoven or Wagner that come to mind. So I would like to have felt more of the passion, and rage, rising above the solos and cacophony. But it is a minor point. The play deserves to be seen by a wider Brisbane audience, and the team are to be congratulated for bringing it to such a marvellous ‘new’ space. This run ends 8th April 2017. If you are quick, tickets may still be available ($28, www.roomtoplay.com.au/whats-on/).

 The cast of  Red Sky Morning  (L to R): Man (Wayne Bassett), Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

The cast of Red Sky Morning (L to R): Man (Wayne Bassett), Girl (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) and Woman (Heidi Manché), Dress rehearsal photography by Richard Barakat. 

NB Parental advisory (15+ suggested): coarse language, sexual references, mental health issues.

Venue:  Lisa Taylor-King Gallery. Shed 1, 16 Thurlow St, Newmarket. On–street parking (plus some spaces immediately outside the entrance). Cash bar opens at 7pm.

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the opening night performance, Friday 31 March, 2017 (7:30pm).

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