Almost With You opens with music from The Clash and a 40-something-chick having to change her sex position because her knees hurt and the two of them end up talking about tax, back pain and pilates instead of doing it. I was so there.
Lisa (Fiona Macleod) is 45. She’s a successful journalist writing a feature about older first-time parents, including her best friend (Helen Hopkins) who became a mum at 46 and her accountant (Raj Sidhu) who became a dad at 48. Lisa hasn’t joined the baby or marriage club and knows she has to face what she lost when she was 20 if she’s ever going to stop feeling empty and broken.
Elizabeth Colmen’s play about grief and survival is clearly very personal and her story is honest and affecting, but the writer is so close to the material that there are few moments of the objective distance that turns a complex and real experience into a moving and embracing stage story.
The characters are a bit too good to ring true and speak to each other without subtext. This honesty from characters creates dialogue that feels unnatural because it leaves no room for the audience to interpret and create meaning – and no one is ever that honest when they speak to people they love and/or are trying to impress. Meanwhile, the secret/twist and every implication for Lisa is clear from the scene when we meet her brother (Luke O’Sullivan) and so much of what follows tells what’s already known.
Kaarin Fairfax’s direction respects and loves Coleman’s story but, like the writing, this doesn’t leave enough space for the audience. Moments of dark humour are lost and everyone is just too damn likeable. The cast are all as lovely as their characters, and Macleod especially brings the missing complexity into her engaging performance, which is what draws us through the story and makes the awkward ending almost moving.
And then there’s the nostalgic music from the 80s and I automatically love anything that references The Go-Betweens. There’s a terrific scene with 80s punk dancing that works so much to show character and attitude, but the nostalgia mostly serves to mark the time and too many of the jokes and reference are meaningless to anyone who didn’t have great taste in music in the 80s. If you don’t know that Steve Kilby wrote “Almost With You” in 1982 and the video was set at a seance, how can the connections be made?
Almost With You is created from the kind of grief that reaches our hearts and the sort of healing that creates hope, but these emotions are having trouble resonating because the work is so close to the writer that there’s no room for anyone else.
Fiona Macleod had a chat with Aussie Theatre.