MKA: Theatre of New Writing’s new festival HYPRTXT opens with a work that spans multiple thematic fields. At the heart of Like a Fishbone is a story about how we immortalise traumatic events, both as lived and identified history.
Themes of loss, motherhood and trauma tourism are made manifest within two women’s dialogue, which escalates into the expression of their intimate and inexplicable experience. The revelations arising from which they struggle to reconcile within their milieu.
The space, a reclaimed food court in Melbourne’s Docklands, is minimalistic and reminiscent of an architect’s office in a high-rise building. Commanding the centre of the space is a long table upon which sits a model town. Exhibited upstage are two models, one resembling a cross that has been turned on its side, the other, a leaning monolith. Blueprints line the walls.
A blind mother (Jean Goodwin) stands in the office awaiting the ‘architect’ (Emma Hall) responsible for the creation of a memorial intended for a small community that has been devastated by a mass shooting at the local school. Both women stand as polar opposites, placed within the constraints of their respective societies.
The text, written by UK based author Anthony Weigh, is a fast paced dialogue that was presented primarily within a naturalistic tradition. The two leads tackled the tempo of the piece wonderfully and their respective characters appeared believable. The career-oriented architect emotionally weighed down by her personal life, the highly-religious conservative country woman traumatised by the loss of her daughter and the young intern (Alice Cavanagh) with youthful wisdom representing hope for the future. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Indeed, there were moments when the work was constructed as a debate instead of a dramatic text. This was made evident during the climax of the show (spoilers!) as the blind woman threatens to break the architect’s model, which as an act did not register as intense dramatic conflict.
When words no longer suffice, blows must follow and the pair’s scuffling is intermittently spread throughout the show. However, sometimes these fights came across as forced and incongruous with the naturalistic conventions (you would never engage in physical conflict with someone who was blind, I hope).
Overall the technical elements of the show were effective and the breaking of some naturalistic conventions registered well. Similarly, the play’s shift between the comedy and tragedy enhanced its message. Utility of the existing architecture of the food court-cum-theatre was inventive and the post-show discussion was facilitated by the warm atmosphere.