I am a 24 year-old male with no intention of having children. At its core, The Distance is about being a mother; I’m not its audience. With that out of the way, I can say that I personally found The Distance to be lacking a drive and substance that I needed to enjoy its two-plus hours runtime.
Written by Deborah Bruce and directed by Leticia Caceres, this latest offering from the Melbourne Theatre Company explores Bea (Susan Prior) fleeing home to her friends in England to escape the responsibilities her children present to her. Her best friends Alex (Katerina Milsevic) and Kate (Nadine Garner) welcome her with open arms until they realise that she is essentially abandoning her children and leaving them with their father, which she seems to genuinely believe is in their best interests. Kate and Alex, both mothers themselves, reject the idea that a mother could willingly leave her children behind and what evolves is essentially a stock standard family drama.
The failing of The Distance seems to come from the writing and the direction. Prior, Garner and Melisevic are clearly working incredibly hard, but each of the three friends is so blatantly a stereotype that they are not given much to work with. Kate comes across as positively shrewish and Garner is barely given a moment to do anything but yell in ever increasing hysterics. Bea is so dripping with the “midlife crises fleeing from responsibility” trope that she actually appears more as a child than a character that the audience can attempt to understand and relate to. Furthermore, the single throwaway line about her being an artist just adds to the clear stereotyping Bruce seems to be employing. This is not helped by some blocking that has Bea employing unusual physical responses to her emotions that don’t fit inside the established naturalistic environment.
Alex is a little better. While clearly the slightly irresponsible comic relief character, Milsevic breathes life into her role and is by far the easiest character for the audience to connect to.
The cast is rounded out by Ben Pendergast as Kate’s husband, Dewi, and Nathan Page as his slightly delinquent younger brother ,Vinnie. Alex’s son, Liam, also joins the drama in the second act, played solidly by Joe Klocek. It is Pendergast, however, who really brings warmth to the play. He can’t have said more then ten lines in the first act, but every word he said let the audience a little more into the world on stage and, with a stronger presence in the second act, he was one of the resounding positives of the play.
Finally a hearty congratulations to Prior, Milsevic, Garner and Pendergast for doing a wonderful job of handling the technical difficulties the show suffered in the first couple of scenes on opening night. They kept the audience on their side and showed great ability to react under pressure.