‘Shadows of Love: A Triptych’ was dangerous.
In partnership with Fringe Brisbane, The Curators have presented a riveting take on love gone wrong in their triptych of short plays, ‘Shadows of Love’. Exceptionally staged and performed at their dynamic home of Christ Church in Milton, the show spanned several styles and genres, from cabaret to dance to puppetry, weaving in stories by August Strindberg, Susan Glaspell and John Romeril.
‘Shadows of Love’ strings three short plays together, related around love’s misfortunes, triumphs and complications. The show begins with ‘Mrs Thally F’ written by Romeril in 1971, the longest of the three, and is based on the real-life Australian murderess, Yvonne Fletcher, who poisoned her first and second husbands and consequently was sent to jail. In the play, Fletcher navigates a world of abusive men, parties, alcohol, watchful neighbours who spy on her, and friends who encourage her to do something about her mistreatment. The result is ultimately deadly and left us pondering whether Fletcher had any other way out of her predicament. ‘Trifles’, written by Glaspell in 1916 and the shortest of the three, questions the domino effect of ‘trifles’ on our lives and how seemingly small events have devastating impacts. The play revolves around another real-life figure Minnie Wright whose husband has been found dead in their home. Through rumours and whispers, we glean that her marriage may not have been a happy and fulfilling one. This story leaves you guessing whether Minnie was involved in the death and places her neighbours Mrs Hale and Mrs Peters in conflicted positions when they begin to question her character too. Lastly, ‘The Stronger’ written by Strindberg in 1889, arguably his most enigmatic and experimental play, is an explosion of repressed emotion that is fascinating to watch unfold. On Christmas Eve, a woman encounters her husband’s mistress in a cafe. What at first glance is an age-old tale of adultery soon evolves into a deep dive into the forces that shape our lives. Across the triptych, the reality and truth of women’s lives in 1950s Australia are intensely explored, from happiness to heartbreak to revenge.
Visually, the show was a treat. Nathaniel Knight’s lighting design captured the light and dark of the women’s lives, casting shadows and shining down onto the stage at different angles. The lighting in ‘Mrs Thally F’ was particularly engaging; reflecting the vicious cycle that Fletcher was caught in as well as her inner turmoil. Together with Michael Beh’s set design of dolls, dresses, tea cups and bird cages suspended high above the stage, the lighting elevated this surreal, dreamlike composition of objects in an epically theatrical way. Beh’s set gave a view into domesticity and femininity, while also providing the unnerving atmosphere of a psychopathic-esque lair, which complemented the scheming and murderous actions of the characters in the triptych.
As a whole, ‘Shadows of Love’ probes deeply into its themes, offering multiple perspectives and insight. While each play’s narrative is separate from the other, the journey of the characters flowed remarkably well as a cohesive arc: from love to revenge to recognition and looking to the future. The addition of upbeat songs from the era also helped balance the lower moments, making this much about the celebration of women’s strength as it was about their hardships.
The direction of the three plays was dangerously sharp and gripping. ‘Mrs Thally F’, directed by Lisa Hickey, moved with a demanding pace driven by its absurd characters and spiralling plot. Hickey leaned into the chaos of this piece with hilarious and devastating effects. This was contrasted to the growing suspense of ‘Trifles’, directed by Helen Strube, which was a well-placed shift in pace. Here the show came to a more realistic portrayal of love gone wrong, and the gradual tension was well developed as Wright’s husband’s mysterious death was discussed. Wright herself was on stage the entire time, silent and still, which added a further layer of intrigue. This was one for the detectives in the audience and a juicy exercise in deciphering the reactions of the characters. Finally ‘The Stronger, directed by Strube and co-adapted with Hickey, brought the pace back with a searing display of rage and honesty that was hard to take your eyes off.
This production must be seen for the performers alone. Chelsea Burton as The Chanteuse was a terrific host and sang with style and sizzle. Sherri Smith was perfectly cast as Yvonne Fletcher and was engrossing from start to finish. Vivien Whittle and Julie Berry were hugely entertaining and energetic in their multiple roles (I felt really sorry for the sick and dying puppet men!). Eleonora Gianardi was intimidating as Mrs Hale and Caroline Sparrow showed nuance and authenticity as Mrs Peters and Amelia. Lisa Hickey was fascinating to watch as Isabella and her convincing portrayal of a woman on the edge. Rounding out the strong company was Bronwyn Naler as Yvonne’s Mother and Minnie Foster, and James Kable as George Henderson.
There is a grit to The Curator’s latest production that is undeniably captivating. Inviting us into the lives of dangerous and unpredictable women, ‘Shadows of Love: A Triptych’ not only resurrects poignant stories for our times but also reminds us that, even in our darkest moments, we have the courage and resilience to go on.
‘Shadows of Love: A Triptych’ performs until Sunday, 6 November at Christ Church, Milton. For more information, visit The Curator’s website.