Friday 7 April 2023

PEAR-SHAPED: Theatre Review

WHAT: Pear-Shaped
WHEN: 5 - 15 April 2023
WHERE: Theatre Works
WRITTEN BY: Miranda Middleton and Ziggy Resnick
DIRECTED BY:  Miranda Middleton
DESIGNED BY: Grace Deacon
PERFORMED BY: Ziggy Resnick and Luisa Scrofani
Ziggy Resnick and Luisa Scrofani - photo by Angel Leggas

Magical realism, surrealism... what the hell is the difference? There is one, but it probably doesn't matter. This is the question I found playing in my mind after watching Pear-Shaped at Theatre Works last night. (This play is surrealism just for the record).

With Pear-Shaped, writers Miranda Middleton and Ziggy Resnick have masterfully interwoven Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with an age-old human story of deep pain and confusion. This story is one known by so many people through their youth - across all generations. It is a story of eating disorders and the carnage they create on family and social relationships. This is a serious topic because the end can be death, but also what about the lives lived before we get to that extreme point?

Kayla (Luisa Scrofani) and Frankie (Resnick) are sisters. Shifting randomly across time we watch them play dress-ups together and grow up together with a lovely closeness and bond. The earliest memory is dressing up to play Alice in Wonderland with dresses made by their Safta (grandmother). Kayla, the older sister, plays Alice and Frankie just has the supporting role of Sister who fell asleep on the river bank. We watch as this becomes the story played out throughout their lives.

The play starts with Frankie in real time trying to come up with a design concept for her graduating university play - Alice in Wonderland. The director is pressuring her for design concepts and her mother keeps calling her about her sister, wanting her to go and visit. Kayla is in a clinic for eating disorders. She has anorexia. Frankie decides she needs to trawl through the old dress up box for design inspiration. Rummaging through clothes and props Frankie drops down her own rabbit hole of memories.

Flipping in and out of growing up and dropping in and out of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland comes the revelatory link between the constant eating Alice engages in to change her body size and shape - to get into the garden, to get out of the White Rabbit's house, the hookah smoking caterpillar and his mushroom, the Mad Hatter's tea party, etc - and Kayla's eating disorders. 

Pear-Shaped is told from the sister's point of view though so what we are really seeing is the pain and grief of a girl/woman who feels unseen and who has essentially lost a sister, but one which just won't go away. A sister who also won't (or can't) come back. 

Frankie has given up hope, but the people around her haven't and as she digs deep into Carroll's text she looks for unanswerable clues to understand her sister and her life. Why is a raven like a writing desk? Lewis Carroll never tells us, but that doesn't mean we can't work it out...does it?

Resnick and Scrofani do a magnificent job with this show. It takes so much skill to perform this kind of material, but they both handle it well. Perhaps their youth prevents them from reaching the emotional depths possible in the work but we get the point so it doesn't matter. Scrofani plays every character who is not Frankie and manages the load with aplomb. I especially like her as the director and Safta. I am not as convinced about the portrayal of the mother as a breezy almond latte drinking nagger. I suspect there is more pain and fatigue to reveal in this character.

This leads me to Middleton's direction. Pear-Shaped is a bit of a NIDA fest and it shows in the polished production. Middleton wields the arts of her creative team with command and gloss. Grace Deacon's design is beautiful, as are so many of the props. My favourite is the glove boa for the caterpillar...or maybe it is the realisation of the Cheshire Cat puppet revealed one body part at a time? Cameron Steen's (ASM) puppetry and hand cameos are perfection by the way! Aron Murray's lighting and impressive AV design are what really take us to Wonderland though. Oliver Beard's sound design compliments it all.

As beautiful as Pear-Shaped is, and as cohesive as the concept and performance are, I did find myself a tad irritated by the depiction of Frankie as a designer. The only hints of this in her real time real world are a very twee mood board and a scrap book we never really see. I feel there was a whole lot of opportunity to make the chaos and experimentation of early-stage design inform Frankie's mental state if only they were willing to get a little bit messy.

Having said that, this production would be at home in any professional main stage theatre in Australia. It reaches those standards in writing, performance and production. I admit to feeling a sense of relief to be at a show with this level of top-class creativity and professionalism. This synergy is so rare when you don't have all of the resources those main stage companies have at their fingertips.

When you see Pear-Shaped you will see a world class production. More importantly you will see a story of great pain and great confusion. Amongst all of the sadness and loss though, perhaps Lewis Carroll can lead us to a point of hope? We will never know if we don't peer into the rabbit hole ourselves.

4.5 Stars

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