“Grace” by Zachary Sheridan is presented by The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights & public service announcement, a new performance collective based in Perth. The award-winning team that produced last year’s popular “The Cockburn Incident” (2017 Adelaide Fringe Tour Ready Award) has created a delightfully quirky, and poignant piece of theatre that was inspired by Australia’s current youth mental health crisis.
When Grace sees and speaks to three octopus it is evident that this play is outside of the realm of naturalism, yet the skilfully realised production, directed by Phoebe Sullivan, allows the absurd to be accessible and moving.
Ana Ika is suitably understated as Grace, a performance that is introspective as she tries to sort out the chaos of her thoughts and emotions. Though I would, at times, have liked to have seen a little more emotion from Ika. The first octopus to interact with Grace is played by Elise Wilson, whose comic timing and personable rendition of an octopus is very endearing. The second and third octopus, played by Simone Detourbet and Anna Dooley respectively, repeat the same dialogue of the first octopus; thereby Sheridan has created a purposeful abstraction, in that, the octopus are one, repeating the demand to stimulate Grace to action. Octopus demands that Grace move to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Great Barrier Reef. It is the repetition of this demand that seems to suggest that Grace’s anxieties, and inertia, are preventing her from dealing with more urgent problems that are bigger than herself. The play is by no means trying to trivialise Grace’s state of mind, however, it is intimating that personal preoccupations, particularly ones that we hold on to from the past and can’t be changed, impede our physical participation and intellectual engagement with more important issues, such as pollution of the oceans and climate change.
Indeed, this new performance collective that is ‘public service announcement’ have a keen interest in exploring issues related to the rapidly changing natural environment, the complex relationship between humans and nonhuman animals, and the mental health crisis in Australia.
Grace’s state of mind is cleverly mirrored in the setting of a room in her home which is mostly made up of scattered books and newspapers. Therefore, the items on the set reflect the chaos in Grace’s mind and the sources of anxiety.
Director Phoebe Sullivan, cast and creatives have produced an intelligent and emotional theatrical production that speaks to our sense of self and our place in the world. There is a somewhat optimistic ending to the play which is a much needed approach to the problems facing this generation. I hope that this important production will tour the nation and beyond.
The season runs from 22 to 26 Jan, 6.30pm at The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge. Bookings: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/grace-fw2019
Photo credit: Zachary Sheridan