**** STARS

By Darby Turnbull

In 2023 Liv Satchell’s Grief trilogy will be presented at La Mama courthouse. Those wishing to donate can find their fundraiser at the Australian Cultural Fund’s website.

 Liv Satchell’s let bleeding girls lie is the third in a trilogy depicting grief; this one being communal grieving in the wake of international tragedy. In 2017, there was a nail bomb attack Manchester Arena directly following a concert by young pop star Ariana Grande whose audience were predominately made up of young, teenage girls. Satchell describes watching live footage whilst donating blood in the CBD; it’s a situation ripe with dramatic potential and has birthed a gorgeous exhibition of empathetic theatre making. She has a deeply felt and nuanced understanding of the personal and revealing aspects of our consciousness that are exposed when confronted with a major event in real time; complex trauma, grief, internalised prejudice to name but a few.

Three exceptional performers have been gifted this text and are credited as co-writers. Chanella Macri (Juice), Belinda McClory (Grace) and Emily Tomlins (Lou) sharing a stage together should be reason enough to stop reading immediately and book a ticket. There is something uniquely fascinating about watching all three of their faces and upper bodies respond to the stimulus around them; they are already seated as the audience enters the theatre and in between delays to the official beginning and long passages written into the script we are treated to almost twenty minutes of quiet where we can concentrate on the focus and attention to detail each has given their characterisations. Satchell and the rest of her team have a trust and reverence for the theatrical power of stillness and it’s one they take profound advantage of; before a line had even been uttered I felt an intuitive understanding of all three of these compellingly ordinary women and would have followed them wherever they cared to take me. Macri, McClory and Tomlins offer a masterful example of how to hold space and connect with your fellow performers whilst seemingly doing very little.

Given that the three characters are donating plasma; a process which takes 60-90 minutes means that they remain seated for the entire performers linked to a tube. Production designer James Lew makes every sparse item on stage resonate allowing for many stark images; the tubes holding them in place occasionally glow a bright blue in the dark, the actors need to navigate their bodies in notoriously uncomfortable and restrictive seats and refreshments such as mints and biscuits become compelling punctuation.

Satchel describes in her program notes how the pandemic has emphasized the effort of connection and she allows her text to take its time for the characters to find common ground; small talk, microaggressions, social faux pas and moments of real empathy underscore the development of their characters before the news of the tragedy reaches them. The study in contrasts and emotional division and unity they create is one of the strongest elements.

Tomlins as queer youth worker Lou has a blunt, restless energy for whom the sociological ramifications are not lost, sees it as a direct attack on youth and femininity. Her growing displays of deep empathy reach a lilting climax when her written responses to the attack shift from third to first person.

Belinda McClory’s Grace is a fascinating creation, every choice is so thoroughly considered and seamlessly presented that it’s almost impossible to look away from her; the way she wears her glasses, reads her book, holds her shoulders a myriad of intricate details go into presenting a woman who desperately wants to appear put together but is losing herself as she grows older. She repeatedly returns to feeling invisible and compensates by parodying the ways she believes others must see her. Her trauma response to the attack given Grace’s experience as a Nurse is one of the most visceral moments of the evening.

Macri as the youngest and only woman of colour is constantly navigating how polite she should be with occasional unintentional frankness; there are so many lovely moments where she displays her private turmoil to the audience before switching to a cheerful social grace and switching back as soon as she thinks no one can see her. She exudes a relatable air of millennial exhaustion that’s bordering on nihilism. Macri navigates a profound balance of private grief and moral outrage that comes from just wishing the world was different so you wouldn’t have to work so hard at not feeling disempowered. I for one cannot wait to see her in Looking for Alibrandi later this year!

It bares repeating that this production is a masterful collaboration; Olivia Satchell’s direction (assisted by Leigh Lule and Nicole Harvey), of her own work contrasts heightened naturalism with some stark moments of abstract; balloons being pulled from mouths, repetition of dialogue elevating the surreal nature of witnessing a tragedy in real time. Jason Crick’s lighting boldly elevates the characters emotional responses to the bombing being shown on the news, alluding that they’re imagining themselves there.

The ending however contains a somewhat bewildering (to me) addition that unsettles the rest of what came before. When the text comes to its natural conclusion, Hannah McKittrick who hadn’t thus far appeared on stage but collaborated with Tom Backhaus on the beautiful sound design, enters to thank us for coming and proceeds to sing the entirety of Hallelujah. The song was briefly alluded to in the text and is a staple of memorial services, but its addition felt so tonally abrupt that it took me out of what had come before just when I felt a natural compulsion to reflect on it. With a performance that has for the most part embraced quiet and subtlety to end with a vocal performance that is full throated and extravagant seemed to undermine what had made the play so special in the first place. The play had already made its message and made it beautifully on its own terms, it was a moment that I and several other people I spoke to felt it didn’t need and soured the experience somewhat.

let bleeding girls lie plays at La Mama Courthouse until December 19th. It contains the kind of exciting and brave performance that our stages have been deprived of for too long. I for one will be returning in 2023 to immerse myself in the trilogy.