After first performing this piece at the 2017 Melbourne Fringe Festival, Twigs That Never Took makes a return season at La Mama Courthouse. Written and performed by Donna De Palma, it tells the story of a middle-aged woman battling with her own thoughts about marriage and relationships, mental health, being a 2-times-divorceee, and growing old. Through the use of puppetry, comedy, pathos, and smatterings of music, Twigs That Never Took invites the audience to consider how life can be like plant cuttings – although we hope they will flourish, sometimes things just don’t take.
The story of Twigs The Never Took had great potential, however it unfortunately failed to live up to this. Although the first part allowed for De Palma to create a likeable character, as the story progressed, there was very little character development and too much emphasis was placed on drawing out segments in the hopes of getting laughs. In particular, the puppetry segment of the performance was unnecessarily long, and it showed the weakness of the writing by placing the need for the majority of story development on a secondary character that was not required for the storyline itself. And as for the actual storyline, there was no tension or climax build and so the ending felt empty and left the audience confused about if the performance had actually concluded.
De Palma’s performance as Bianca was solid and it was easy to connect with and feel empathy towards her character. There is, however, a danger inherent in writing and performing a piece. As the writer, a strong attachment is formed to the text and so it is difficult to create a performance that moves away from the initial image in the writer/performer’s head. In order to create this, strong advice from external eyes is required and needs to be heeded. I would have therefore liked to have seen more input from director Carmel Hyland around the character build and also more collaboration to ensure the performance was more engaging from the puppetry scene onwards.
Set design by Lee Naish was simple though could have been placed better to illustrate the more natural layout of a house. As an example, the placement and design of the window set piece implied a vanity with a mirror more than an actual window. Lighting was also simple and generally effective, however needed to be better focussed to ensure De Palma was lit correctly throughout the piece. Similarly, the sound design was generally effective, however there were times when it was misbalanced, particularly when music was being played, so it was difficult on occasion to hear De Palma. Although there were only 2 costumes in the performance, the first costume was too long and, although maybe not consciously, the audience could see that it impacted on De Palma’s performance. The change into the second costume which, debatably wasn’t necessary, was lengthy and added to the dragging ending of the piece.
Overall, De Palma does have the beginnings of an excellent piece of theatre for a solo, middle-aged, female performer in a world where there aren’t many of these. Having not seen the original season of the Twigs That Never Took it is impossible to say if there were changes between these two seasons, however I would hope that after this season, De Palma looks at ways in which she can build climax within the play by trimming unnecessarily long elements and fleshing out other pieces of the storyline. As Twigs The Never Took talks about, although this particular twig may not have taken, by nurturing this piece in the future, a more flourishing performance can be created.