When does love and lust fade into habit and routine?

Adrenaline. Emergency. Life. Death. Heart pumping. Emotions flooding the body.

Trauma in company. Trauma in isolation. Hope. Guilt. Humanity.

Mary Anne Butler’s award-winning Broken is on at fortyfivedownstairs presented by Lab Kelpie. Directed by Susie Dee, with Marg Horwell, Andy Turner and Ian Moorhead on design, lighting and sound respectively, this formidable team have created a stunning production that dares to utilise some of life’s most traumatic moments to display just how connected we all are.

A car crashes and rolls, woman and dog inside. Another woman experiences a traumatic miscarriage. A man is the link: he works to save the dying woman, while his partner grows ever distant. Their words are visceral and drag you deep into their lives. Set near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, Broken takes place in an iconic Australian location.

The dialogue is fast and sharp. The constant overlap and interruption moves the narrative along quickly and highlights the connectedness of the human condition. Our experiences continually intersect, despite seemingly polar opposite contexts. It’s tense viewing, the opening night audience leant forward for much of the show, before relaxing back in brief moments to catch our breath.

Broken leaves you feeling fulfilled yet emotionally raw. It actively pulls you to visualise the various snapshots we’re given from Ham, Mia and Ash’s lives. You’ll spend this play jumping from outback to bathroom to destroyed car and back again. You’re almost playing catch up with these characters as they express their trauma and it holds you captive. The non-linear telling of these stories in time and place makes the show’s culmination that much richer.

Broken is a visually minimalist show. While the actors have striking physicality, there are no props and a limited set. What it does have in abundance is sentient atmosphere. From the smoke to the shards of light to the immaculate soundscape, you get the feeling this show is a living, breathing organism. Broken is full in the best way. Any other additions would make it feel crowded. The actors are given the literal space to explore the text freely.

These three actors make for an incredible ensemble. Working seamlessly together, Lyall Brooks as Ham, Sophie Ross as Mia and Naomi Rukavina as Ash inhabit these characters and their combined performance is extraordinarily powerful. Each telling their own story, the weaving of their lines between one another’s allows for a monologue-like effect. It’s difficult to untwine them from each other. Rukavina’s lifeless or energised body, Ross’ wails or silent grieving and Brooks’ ability to elevate or break through the intensity creates a truly impressive ensemble piece.

While handled well, it’s important to acknowledge the difficult and triggering topics in this play. Trauma is deeply personal, as are our responses. This isn’t light theatre, it’s heavy and explores difficult themes such as vehicle accidents, severe injury, shock, unstable relationships, self-harm and miscarriage. While theatre can and should challenge us, please be mindful of your limits and ensure you are prepared.

Everyone will leave this show with a different response, but I think my strongest one is a sense of belonging. It’s easy to feel alone in difficulties, but Broken deeply stitches together human experiences in a way that makes your internalised loneliness feel a little lighter. As Ham says, “it’s bigger than us”. The human condition ensures that while every experience is individual, it is also shared.
This is theatre that keeps you on your toes and makes you think and feel, leaving you reflecting long after it is done. This gripping production is a testament to the inimitable team behind it. Broken’s striking story will be etched in your psyche.

Broken is on at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs for a limited season until Sunday 25 November 2018.