Lifeforce is a new Australian musical by Joanna Weinberg (Goddess, Every Single Saturday) that is currently making its debut at the King Street Theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.
A sound work based on the life of Natalie Lotkin, the lead performer of the piece, it’s the story of one woman – Ruth – and her journey through both her desire to get pregnant and re-connecting with her own family roots.
It’s commendable to see a new musical actually mounted in Sydney – this is a rare occurrence, and the sheer work involved in the production should be appreciated. The music is strong and the piece is cohesive, though it has a rough-shod feel to it, like this isn’t – or shouldn’t be – its final draft. Some scenes are awkwardly balanced – a snappy, fun song about donating eggs smacks up against some very different, heavy scenes, and doesn’t quite come across as a relief from the tension and more like an easy way out – and at times the lovely, haunting melodies are let down by too-literal lyrics.
There is so much potential in the piece. There are two especially interesting supporting characters – Joel (the fabulous Tyran Parke) and Sally (Monique Salle) who both have exciting points of view. Joel is Ruth’s surrogate, a gay man who finds a deeper sense of manhood in the possibility of becoming a father, while Sally is young, focused on her studies, and despite her high rates of fertility, does not want a child. If the show followed these three characters on a parallel journey, it would instantly open up the show to the audiences – the IVF struggle, on the other hand, feels at time inaccessible to the audience.
Tonally similar to William Finn’s A New Brain, which is perhaps inevitable with a piece set increasingly around doctor’s visits and with a few doctor-based numbers that feel like Finn’s surrealist, illness-inspired perspectives, and it’s a biographical piece to boot; it unfortunately suggests comparison to that incisively funny and quietly poignant work which Lifeforce doesn’t quite mirror. When it’s funny, it’s funny, particular in the concept behind the pivotal ‘turkey baster’ moment (you know the moment already), but oftentimes it can’t decide how serious to be, or how funny it can be, and that uncertainty is hard to miss.
Lifeforce features some stunning vocals – Salle is a young performer that has glimpses of brilliance in her solo numbers, and is a willing and game supporting player. In a variety of roles, Charlotte Kerr has a purity to her voice that is intriguing and appealing. Parke is as heavenly as usual, and that his profile isn’t higher remains a mystery; he blends effortlessly into harmonies with Lotkin, who is a fine performer, at her strongest singing with Parke.
A pleasant evening at the Fringe, Lifeforce indicates that new and local musical theatre is still alive in Sydney. For that reason, it’s worth seeing, and perhaps for those with a similar journey to parenthood will find it cathartic and life-affirming; the writing seems to be a process of validation, purgation, of finding art in something overwhelming.