Under the direction of Jeffery Jay Fowler, Lally Katz’s warped story of parentless brother and sister Abalone (Brendan Ewing) and Gerture (Natalie Holmwood) raises questions about mental health and the inner workings of those living with it. Katz has taken the zeitgeist of our times, opened its veins and let it bleed out on the stage.
After the accidental death of their parents, the adult siblings play out their days in a child-like game of charades, acting out memories of their parents and creating make-believe lives, which may exist for them in the outside world, if only they ventured beyond their four walls. Among packing boxes and rising decay they live out their days on the blurred edge of fantasy and reality.
Gerture spends her days teaching in an imaginary classroom and fantasising about her masochist boyfriend, Ian. Meanwhile, Abalone obsesses about winning the Eisteddfod.
In an attempt to keep his sister from withdrawing into her classroom world again, where he is not welcome, he invites her to play Lady Macbeth alongside his Macbeth, dangling the carrot of a prize of a one-way ticket to Moscow to entice her. It might just be her way out.
Both Ewing and Holmwood give persuasive performances, able to embody the multifaceted layers of these complex characters. They are endearing one instant and terrifying the next. Ewing’s bodily contortions and lunatic gazes are the fodder of a good physiological thriller, while Holmwood in contrast flashes from naive and innocent to raging and irrational. The combination lures in the audience with a sense of compassion and helplessness.
While the underlying message in this production is dark and ugly, there are many moments of great humour alongside moments of rebellion. The playwright’s intention is to make the audience feel uncomfortable, making no apologies for the crude, confronting and at times cringe-worthy sexual content, which teeters on the edge of immorality.
There is much to enjoy about this production. A tight plot, rhythmic script, polished performances and tight direction; even a bit of Farnsey thrown in for good measure. It’s not a light piece of theatre by any stretch, with some crass imagery and language, but the story is intriguing and demands attention for the 90-minute duration.
The Eisteddfod is highly recommended for the theatre-curious with a penchant for the quirky and queer. It’s unnerving and brilliantly off-kilter. Take from it what you will; your interpretation is the only limit.
Black Swan State Theatre Company present The Eisteddfod at The State Theatre of Western Australia until 9 July.
Photo: The Eisteddfod, featuring Brendan Ewing and Natalie Holmwood. Image by Daniel James Grant.