Red Stitch have lightened the mood with their latest offering You Got Older by Washington playwright Clare Barron and directed by founding ensemble member Brett Cousins. However, fear not for light fluffy silliness as this black comedy packs a punch in 100 minutes where, inspired by events in her own life, Carron writes of family, cancer, fear, anxiety, sibling support, and sexual fantasies!
Emily Goddard brilliant shines as anxious and recently single Mae who returns home to look after her ailing father, played with aplomb by Francis Greenslade. The opening scene was a cleverly engaging moment between parent and child (though that isn’t clear until halfway through) as they survey the land, eat green peppers and appreciate the little moments in their lives. Indeed it is this emphasis on the fragments of real life for all its treasures and foibles that seems to be the main preoccupation for Cousins and I love how he has crafted these moments with his cast because it makes the whole thing totally relatable. What Goddard and Greenslade execute perfectly is not overplaying these tender moments; they are deep in thought and perfectly still when they need to be, and wholeheartedly intriguing, so that they always hold our attention rather bore us which could have been the outcome for lesser skilled actors. There is something to be said for experience knowing when and more importantly how to pause and reflect in an engaging way and they both pull it off marvellously.
These leads, are well supported by Mark Yeates, Penny Harpham and Eva Seymour as Mae’s siblings and thankfully allow the tone to shift to playful family banter as they surround their dad asleep after his cancer treatment. In their short onstage time each of the siblings, Matthew, Hannah and Jenny were able to be excellently express themselves as well rounded individuals. This is a family who all cope differently, and don’t despise each other for it. Their interactions were totally authentic, allowing each to shift to the fore when required, and others to have their quiet moments of reflection – be it at their dad’s bedside, or under the peak of a blue cap. Their bonding moment at the end which linked to an earlier family reference was perhaps stretched out too long but nevertheless tied the family threads together nicely and juxtaposed well with the extremely moving phone call between Mae and her dad in the scene prior which bought many of the audience to silent tears.
Mae’s anxiety about her life and where she is at manifests itself hilariously through a series of comic and intense dreams starring the man of her dreams, a cowboy named Luke (or Darryl depending on her mood) played convincingly by Jordan Fraser Trumble. This was perhaps the hardest role to perform because his ‘character’ is a bizarre mix of suave seduction meets violent sexual energy as conjured entirely by Mae. The deep resonant tones of his voice and posed stances really suited the scenario and generated lots of laughs with dashes of alarm. And I loved his cameo as the male nurse in a later scene, clever. Juxtaposing these fantasies was Mae’s real life encounter with an old school mate Mac played by Lee Beckhurst who met in a bar one night. These duo scenes still allowed for the same quirky twists of humour as they naturally got to know each other, with some curveballs for them and us along the way. Their fascinations with eating beard hair and touching pus is a case in point and whilst it sounds gross it was actually quite funny in context. There was equal convincing chemistry between Goddard with both men and Beckhurst’s monologue about only having a year left of days to see his mum was quite beautifully implemented. The eventual indecisiveness (and tiredness) of both Mae and Mac was quite endearing and like life sometimes, never fully resolved.
Chris Wenn and Daniel Nixon’s collaboration on the soundscape was brilliantly executed and really added to this typical American story with dark comic threads. Hats off also to Sophie Woodward, for her simplistic yet effective beige multi levelled set. This concept was totally reliant on snappy stage management work and well accomplished by Hannah Bullen and Anthony Torouno who quite efficiently removed and supplied a range of props and costumes through sneaky trap doors. Most impressive. This play celebrates the idea of feeling happy in the little moments, and the importance of family. It was both convincing and challenging in its style and well performed by all involved. This is different, quirky and a unique addition to the Red Stitch season.