Intruding on an intimate and heated discussion between two psychiatrists and a mentally unstable woman is an experience certain to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Red Silk Productions and the Blue Room Theatre present Lois Achimovich’s Red Silk, a hugely atmospheric and scathingly funny performance about the blurred lines of scandal and controversy, hidden agendas and abuse, and mental illness.
The play is set in the 1960s when Anne Sexton, a feisty and unstable US poet, and her former and present psychiatrists, Martin and Ted respectively, have a fictional private meeting together. What Ted first believes is a harmless reunion is actually an ambush to expose his unprofessional affair with his patient, Anne. In an emotional roller coaster, punctuated by moments of calm (and Anne’s biting wit), the performance engages and disturbs the audience from beginning to end.
Roz Hammond portrays the integral role of Anne brilliantly. Her energy drives much of the play as Anne is a vibrant and loud personality. The most notable achievement is the fluid, chilling transitions from seductive to drunken and unhinged. Intense and expressive, Roz has the audience laughing aloud one moment and shifting uncomfortably in their seats the next.
Luke Hewitt as tightly-wound and proper Martin and Dan Luxton as flustered and confused Ted are the perfect complement to Roz’s Anne. Luke’s passive aggressive stares and Dan’s often pleasant attitude contrast Roz’s vigour well. Although none of the characters are particularly likeable, as all are in some way antagonistic, self-destructive or rash, they interact chemically as an ensemble and their predicament is captivating.
The set and costumes, both designed by Lawrie Cullen-Tait, parallel one another pertinently. With the audience situated in small tiers on two sides of the stage, the set is elongated with chairs and doorways at one end, a psychiatrist’s lounge in the centre, and a bar at the other end. The movement and dialogue happening simultaneously at opposite ends often forces audience involvement as they look back and forth in a tennis-match fashion. The minimal props are stark white, almost clinical, while the costumes are predominantly shades of greys and black. It’s not until the second act that Roz dons the red silk nightgown.
The lighting design emphasises the whites on stage; generally the light is constant and bright, with trains of thought, passing lengths of time, and separate action outside the main room highlighted through spotlights and low-lying lights. With a lack of frequent music and few sound effects, the atmosphere is generated almost exclusively through lighting and the actors themselves, who are relied upon to propel the play towards its conclusion.
While at times the dialogue falls into a circular loop, as a whole Red Silk is an absorbing performance. Roz’s manic presence makes the entire stage come to life, but it’s the relationship between the actors and the depth of character developed throughout the play that makes the audience want to know what happens next. A little bit disquieting, very dynamic, and relentlessly sharp, Lois Achimovich’s new play is well worth a look.