Saturday 2 November 2019

29 Days To Say Goodbye - Theatre Review

What: 29 Days To Say Goodbye
When: 23 October - 2 November 2019
Where: The Burrow
Written and performed by: Louise Richardson
Sound and lighting by: Luke Schlesinger
Louise Richardson
The Melbourne arts scene is engaging in a lot of discussion about death and grief lately. With the planet in a climate emergency, the world flooded with refugees for a number of reasons, and with a record number of people entering/in retirement in Australia - which means there will be a record number of people dying in the next decade or so - it is no wonder. Richardson has entered this arena with her own story of loss and grieving with some great guidance for anyone who thinks they are or will be experiencing it in their lives in her solo show 29 Days To Say Goodbye at The Burrow.

29 Days To Say Goodbye is an 'ode to grief' as it says in the program. Richardson has lost both her dad and her brother, but this show focuses on her experience with the former.  The time line is a little confusing because at one point she says it was 7 weeks from diagnosis to death, but the show revolves around the 29 days she had to deal with the impending loss. It probably doesn't matter though - the point is it was quick.

The show flashes around time and situation in a cubist manner and combines acting with body art. In that respect it was very reminiscent of The Disappearing Trilogy recently on at La Mama. Richardson though, has managed to integrate her tools in a much more cohesive way, exploring the things said and showing us the things which are beyond words.

In a way this is what Richardson is trying to tell us. We have words to explain things and communicate things but sometimes they are not enough, and sometimes they are just plain wrong. We know about the 7 steps of grief, but what few of us understand is we all move between those stages at a different pace and usually in a different order. People toss around platitudes to make us feel better - words which are meaningless and in many instances causing their own level of pain.

The rear of the stage is lined with four full length mirrors reflecting the audience back at itself just as Richardson is reflecting back on her experiences. On one is a list of these platitudes and it is powerful when she brings that mirror downstage and crosses them off one by one as she explores why those are not the right words. Things like 'at least he is with the angels now' and 'you'll get over it' and 'I feel your pain'.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the show is how Richardson links the triumphant premiership of her father's football team that year to her memories of him. The one thing he asked for on his death bed was for this to happen because they never had. It all came down to the last 29 seconds at which point they became unbeatable. "29 seconds to win the game, 29 days to say goodbye." This moment is the one which best illustrates the confusing contradiction of emotions which are the core element of grief.

As beautiful as this show is, I did find myself a bit abstracted from it, I have been thinking about this a lot and I think it is because of the measured, almost lecture-like (or storytelling?) delivery.  Her point across the show is that everyone experiences grief differently and you should not measure yourself against anyone else or even who you were before. Cry when you need to cry. Do what you need to do when you do it.

Thus, my disconnection is going to sound ridiculous after saying that but I think I needed to see some of that control break to really connect emotionally. Richardson has beautiful and clever ways to show how survival is all about taking one step at a time and how time warps when you are grieving, but it felt as though she was letting us in to the story but not into her pain. It's a tough thing to do and I don't begrudge any holding back but it is the one element which stops the audience from crying with her.

29 Days To Say Goodbye is a beautiful and delicate show. It is only on for one more night for this season but Richardson has indicated it will be back in another iteration in the future. When you see the ads, buy a ticket. It is a very beautiful journey.

4 Stars

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