Belvoir St is producing a consistently compelling 2013 season, telling personal and highly-charged stories, showing glimpses beyond the mirror into other lives. And Forget Me Not, Tom Holloway’s new gem of a play, is the best yet.
It’s a tender play about a tumultuous man. Colin Moody plays Gerry, an alcoholic with a temper and a real talent for alienating everyone around him, including daughter Sally (Mandy McElhinney), who has reluctantly allowed her father to stay with her when he has nowhere else to go.
The twist to this seeming-chamber piece is in the fact that Gerry is a victim of the Child Migrant Scheme – known as the “Home Children Programme” at the time in the UK, where children from seemingly disadvantaged families were sent to British settler colonies (many to Australia), under the guise of giving them a better life. Often the results of this were tragic and devastating; children were often told they were orphans when they were not, taken from single or poor parents and sent to orphanages or institutions.
Gerry has had a rough life and when the play opens he is reconnecting with a family member he does not remember, the mother he couldn’t recall if he tried, and his hulking, uncomfortable, angry frame fits awkwardly in her sweetly shabby lounge room. As they slowly reconnect we come to know these people, and we come to care for these people – which is no easy feat when they’re all carrying so much baggage.
[pull_left]You won’t be able to look away. One of the finest pieces of writing currently on Sydney stages, remarkably acted and honest, it is one of the best plays of the year[/pull_left]
McElhinney as Sally, and Oscar Redding as Mark, a worker for the Child Migrant’s Trust – working on the Herculean task to reunite child migrants with any family they may have back in the UK – each bring remarkable levels of light and shade to their character; McElhinney is a song of weariness and despair and a flickering longing for her father, while Redding blends seamlessly humour and deep, human empathy.
Elieen O’Brien as Mary, Gerry’s mother, is warm and immediately likable for her lack of airs, complex in her life of stasis: she still lives in the same place she did when Gerry was still with his family; she has never been able to move forward. But she smiles and she fusses and she makes tea, and she stakes a huge claim on the emotional core of the play.
But it all comes back to Gerry. Colin Moody gives a bravura performance as Gerry, violent and enraged and irascible and very broken, with a twisting, snaking vulnerability that squeezes around the heart. His sense of movement and action is so keen, and it means Gerry is too broad and too brash for the stage, and from there it’s so easy to understand this man who has never felt like he belonged.
Gently written, even when Gerry is at his most destructive (and self-destructive), this play is a structural delight: soaring and sweeping to naturally occurring incident, realisation, and catharsis, slow erosion of rock over time. Holloway never pushes; the pace is set exactly where it needs to be, and it never falls trap of rushing to a “moment”, as plays are often wont to do. It is so wonderful that director Anthea Williams seems to have a rich understanding of the beats in this story, of the flow of the narrative and the unveiling of each character, because her hand in this is steady, assured, and heartbreakingly present in every breath each character takes.
Somewhere in the second half of Forget Me Not, the play, so small on stage but so vital, solid at first and good, it becomes something more than you thought it could ever be, and it is absolutely arresting. You won’t be able to look away. One of the finest pieces of writing currently on Sydney stages, remarkably acted and honest, it is one of the best plays of the year.