This and that. Who gives a darn about details? We are here to slander and maim and we just don’t care what nor who gets in the fray of battle. Why? We don’t know. You should know. It’s my problem. It’s your fault. This and that. Everything. Nothing. Gah.
This is the story of Alice: eight months pregnant, twelve years married to a professor, settled. This is also the story of June: an awkward and orderly math prodigy, sleeping with her professor, content. And this is holistically the story of Alice and June, women of two worlds, brought together in a limbo of chaos as their stories collide. This-That explores the bringing, breaking and building of a relationship that is caught in between romance and friendship; an “anti-rom-com rom-com that puts a modern spin on what it means to love”, This-That innovatively combines all the tropes of your standard romantic comedy crashing down in a spiral of action and reaction that encourages the thematic exploration of sexuality, gender, grief, connection, and finding the humour in tragedy. A story of reality that is seldom told yet often experienced, This-That brings light and shade to both the cruelty and the beauty that is love.
Written by New York-turned-Melbournian playwright Kotryna Gesait, the play is structured in three segments, not unlike a beginning, middle and end. Chronologically, we have our event, our unfolding, and our resolution; thematically, we are thrown into a ballpit of emotions and ideals and conversation that is both so raw yet so refined in a delicious script with incredibly raw and relatable characters. Directed with honest craftsmanship, our crowded stage becomes a battleground for two women with awesome dissonance between them in all elements of life, including their knowledge of each other and the role the other plays in the their life. With Professor Mark a conduit, the two women navigate their tensions and a relationship develops through distress and distraught; and every now and then, the couple break the Fourth Wall to track your typical romance narrative as a parallel to their own strange camaraderie, identifying the moments that your usual romantic duo would fall in love and how, all while our delectable duo clashes heads in debates and discussions of things both right in front of them and inconceivably beyond them.
And speaking of our “delectable duo”, we are honoured with the pilgrimage that is watching these two performers bring their tale of woe and wonder to life. Both together as a unit and as separate entities in their pseudo-caricatures, Candice Lillian and Kristina Benton nuance each line in the hour-long script with brilliant delicacy and consideration, landing every phrase in the perfect place. Candice Lillian dons the character of June, the awkward but intelligent mathematician who requires her world to be in complete order at all times to the point where misplacing a coaster is devastating. Her stiff movements and don’t-look-at-me expressions were played with utmost conviction and comedic timing, reviving the nerdy girl from high school we all knew who would run for captain every year but always just get the vice position. Played by Kristina Benton, Alice is fiery with impulse and works her emotions out of her body through her body as an ex-dancer. Her consistently heightened state of processing the drama through her physicality and voice never allowed a moment for the audience to rest, whether they be waiting for her next spark of intervention or still rubbing their sides from the pain of splitting from laughter. Together, Lillian an Benton are a fierce partnership, exploding with comic lines and tense gestures and overall crisp energy in presenting a phenomenally real piece of theatre without ever missing the means for laughter.
With a set comprised of all your vintage furniture and loft-like décor, we are shown a true ‘Melbourne student’s unit’ aesthetic, which is just where the entirety of our piece takes place. Offering a small plant on a low desk to one side, a plump couch to the other and a nice entryway smack-bang in the centre between two drapes, our cramped-with-details-but-never-invasive space develops the image of the tiny one-bedroom residence while providing the mirage of a lot more playing room than expected. Also to our left is a low-sitting coffee table and two chairs, the calm bubble for many of the easier conversations in the show. With full and consistent use of the entire stage, backstage and auditorium, the intimate theatre becomes home to the performers, with entrances and exits both through the audience walkway and back drapes for various effects throughout.
Some of these effects included the exchange of many an item between the women. As a gesture, whether kind or awkward or downright outraged, the women would politely offer or aggressively smack the other with a muffin, a cushion, a spray bottle and the like. Each prop would appear standard before making a return to the spotlight as something more, showing a delightfully intelligent approach to the use of objects as symbolic non-symbols. The everyday apparatus was never anything meaningful contextually, but in its everyday meaning, ironically became even more meaningful. It was a true use of “this and that”.
With Alice’s hair scraggly with stress and June’s tied up in a neat ponytail, there is another contrast in the working. Complementing their hairstyles, each had their own costume that accentuated their gap of age and lifestyle: June is presented both strictly yet gawkily with her iconic yellow shirt and glasses, and Alice in her exercise tights and burgundy blouse that defined the lump growing inside her. Both performers made slight adjustments to their costumes over the three stages of the show to reiterate the progression of time, helping the audience along in the journey with ease.
With a general white wash that was only abandoned for two reasons – black-outs to indicate the next segment, and a condensed, dimmer point of light when the actors broke out of character to remind the audience of the romantic comedy formulae – we are given full exposure to the intimacy of the space, accentuating the volatile energy that was wanting to burst out of its confines. For occasional comic relief, an audio track was explicitly called for by our dear Alice to layer the mood with a not-so-subtle subtext. With only minor movements in their design, the lighting and audio manage to still play a crucial part in setting the mould for the performers to work with.
This and that, where and when, who and with whom. We came, we saw, and we compromised in the most unexpected of ways. This-That reminds us of the fact that we are all still human despite our differences and experiences, and that outside of our perception of others stands just an ‘other’, another human like us. That despite this and that, we are left with a reflection of ourselves that has been stripped of our own this’ and that’s, meaning that we are fundamentally able to communicate with, see ourselves in and fall in love with anyone. How? We don’t know. You should know. It’s my problem. It’s your fault. This and that. Everything. Nothing. Gah.