Although the sanctity of marriage stubbornly remains relatively undisturbed, the necessity for such a state is increasingly being questioned. Alright- so a certain theatre critic insists that it’s old news. But as long as couples continue blindly stumbling into Forever with each other, commentary against this old-fashioned social norm will continue to be made, especially in the theatre.
The Drowning Girls finds Paula Unger directing her second show with the discerning new Melbourne theatre laboratory Turtle Lab Inc. Her direction for this devilishly adult play is taut and confident. Bringing the audience back to the bashful Edwardian era, this story is based on the true enticing tale of the ‘Brides of Bath’ murders, as it recounts and resolves the mystery behind George Joseph Smith’s short-lived relationships with three of his many wives. Although the story itself is engaging enough, the writing focuses on the women’s aspirations and emotions, from ardour to elation and then to despair and doubt. Recited with elegance and exquisite poise, the three sirens, Zoe Ellerton-Ashley, Rachel Dyson-McGregor and Eloise Oxer, coax us into a beautifully macabre land that is akin to a state of Limbo, beautifully represented and executed by the creatives.
Kat Chan’s carefully toned set and costumes of black, white and silver is handsome and refined. It forms an atmosphere that lets the girls move hauntingly into and out of numerous scenes as different characters- up to seven each- while Lisa Mibus’ lighting enforces this state throughout with a befitting tinge of discomfort. The sound (by Chris Wenn) constantly reminds us of the impending murders and that despite the occasional flurry of excitable brides, we are here to witness a crime or three.
Fast forward a century or more and biblical themes of marriage and the ark return to taunt us. Two by Two by Dan Giovanni and directed by Stephen Nicolazzo is a crisp tale told with urgency upon a bleak apocalyptic landscape. The audience is immediately thrust with the age-old dilemma of allegiance swimming amongst several timely topics. ‘If Love and Integrity were drowning and you could only save one, who would you save?’ In this world, there can be more than two options, but someone, inevitably, has to drown.
A doctor and his artist husband prepare themselves to board the boat to salvation, though both are circumspect, given the still exasperatingly omnipresent Christian rules. A curious character, Duckie, arrives bearing a baby that she has somehow acquired. Win-win coupling options quickly turn into lose-lose scenarios as Giovanni interrogates layer upon layer of moral issues amidst an Armageddon.
Buoyant like the animal to which her character’s name alludes, Zahra Newman interjects a very sharp and astute performance that forms a welcome threesome to the lonely desolate duo.
Of special note is the lighting design by Katie Sfetkidis, which creates and sustains the ominous mood of the play with effortless comprehension.
Giovanni grazes upon the issues lightly, but where he succeeds is in the fluid integration of these pieces, much like the alleged gathering of the animals in the original tale. The boat is afloat, and whether or not it will plough into any cliffs is up to you to decide.