‘Never Said Motel’ // Tamzen Hayes and Melbourne Fringe

‘Never Said Motel’ was cathartic.

It happens to the best of us. We walk away from a situation and then think of all the things we should have said to that certain someone. Sometimes these internalised conversations can live in our heads for days, weeks, months, or even years. This can be frustrating and upsetting, but also open up a unique prospect for creative potential.

Such unspoken words are the basis for Tamzen Hayes’ show, ‘Never Said Motel’, which has been included in this year’s line-up at the Melbourne Fringe.

Originally penned for the 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival, ‘Never Said Motel’ is an intensely intimate exploration of Hayes’ previous romantic relationships.

Produced by Annie Bourke, ‘Never Said Motel’ invites audiences to embrace Hayes’ vulnerable storytelling. Serving as both writer and performer, Hayes’ candour shines through in every word that she wished she had said to specific individuals at specific times in her life.

In lieu of this, Hayes’ ‘Never Said Motel’ offers a series of autobiographical anecdotes that showcase the heartache of broken relationships, unresolved closure, and human nature.

The pristine Steps Gallery serves as the eponymous ‘hotel’ for Hayes’ performance. Situated only a stone’s throw away from Melbourne Fringe’s Hub, Steps Gallery provides a cosy exhibition space with a tinge of Rockefeller prestige. Situated on the ground floor of Lygon Street’s Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund building, the Gallery’s simple atmosphere beautifully contrasts the ornate décor of the lobby – nicely juxtaposing the ‘rose coloured glasses vs reality’ theme of ‘Never Said Motel’. Audiences sit on chairs framing the Gallery’s centre ‘stage’. As they do, Hayes lays on a Persian rug, writing vigorously upon a pad of paper. It feels almost intrusive to watch her scribbling away, but also liberating. Even without uttering a word, Hayes already is inviting audiences into her personal life.

The quiet intimacy of ‘Never Said Motel’ flows throughout the performance in numerous facets, not least its music and lighting. With Hayes serving as the literal central figure of ‘Never Said Motel’, her stories reverberate the room both through her words and atmosphere. A soft, lulling soundtrack supports Hayes’ storytelling, aiding her descriptive recollections of happier times.

However, tinges of melodic melancholia interspersed throughout, highlighting the varied emotions that experiences can elicit both within a moment and in hindsight.

Composer and Sound Designer Danni A. Esposito marries these musical cues with simple lighting choices that convey the personal resonance each story has upon Hayes. Safe for two or three instances of darkness, the subtle light of ‘Never Said Motel’ remains consistent. A nod perhaps to how life continues from situation to situation, the lighting shows that Hayes’ stories may change but her world remains the same.

Continuing her elusion to vulnerability, Hayes conducts her monologues in a nightdress and oversized, frayed cardigan. With the connotation of sleepwear being solely reserved for private moments at home, Hayes boldly wears the garment as a symbolic badge of personal honour. She strips away and replaces her cardigan periodically throughout, embracing her need to be unabashedly honest during her most poignant moments. This is perhaps most noteworthy during two particularly heart-wrenching stories about loss of innocence and control. Hayes finds power in her exhibition, which in turn affords the audience true insight into her world.

The audience’s connection with Hayes is further nurtured by her addressing members directly. Standing in front of individual patrons, Hayes speaks to each person as a substitute for the intended party. Rachel Baring’s direction of Hayes demonstrates an intense desire for audience’s to feel the power of ‘human connection’. Hayes’ unwavering eye contact with an emotional appeal to each person is hauntingly resonant. Although not privy to each story’s muse, audience members are likely to feel the emotional weight of their, sadly lapsed, connection to Hayes. In sharing her performer’s vision for unadulterated earnestness, Baring aptly establishes a forum dedicated to emotive expression and reception.

However, at its heart, ‘Never Said Motel’ is Hayes’ story. Stories, really. Although she is not speaking to the people who inspired each monologue directly, her emotionally rich performance feels no less authentic. Performing her own written words, Hayes imbues ‘Never Said Motel’ with moving honesty and reflective humour.

While she does not shy away from some of her more painful memories, Hayes’ ultimately optimistic outlook showcases her appreciation of how life’s difficulties can shape an individual. In choosing to create closure for several past relationships through her performance, Hayes embraces her narrative and relishes in her own sense of power. This strength affords Hayes, and ‘Never Said Motel’, with resounding poignancy and an unflinching relatability with the audience.

All of us have something we wish we had said to another at a particular point in time. For Tamzen Hayes, instead of keeping those words unspoken, she utilises them as the framework for ‘Never Said Motel’. With sincere forthrightness, Hayes delivers a meticulous ‘stream of consciousness’ performance that is sure to captivate audiences. While, as the old adage goes, “some things are better left unsaid,” ‘Never Said Motel’ is one show definitely worth spreading the word about.

‘Never Said Motel’ performed until Sunday, 23 October at the Steps Gallery, Carlton. For more information about this or other Melbourne Fringe shows, visit their website.

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