FRINGEWORLD 2018 | The Wind In The Underground | 4.5 stars

Review | Laura Money

Thomas Wolfe once said – you can’t go home again. For, home is a concept, not a place, surely? The memories – positive and negative – may seem etched in the very walls and floorboards of a place, but is it the place or the people that create those memories? Sam O’Sullivan questions the very notion of home in this superbly written play. The Wind In The Underground is about pilgrimage and nesting; restlessness and staying still; anger and calm.

Under the direction of the intuitiveĀ Lucy Clements, four adult children reunite in their semi-abandoned childhood home. At first glance, the narrative centres around Simon (Rowan Davie) the cheeky youngest brother returning from backpacking around the world. He returns – summoned by his oldest siblings, Andrea (Bishanyia Vincent) and Mitchell (Michael Abercromby) to help convince other sister Claire (Whitney Richards) to sell the family homestead. The conversation becomes an argument and regresses back to childhood play and assertions of dominance.

Moving back and forth between childhood events and the current goings-on, the siblings navigate their relationships and fight for the final say. When grown adults act as children, there is a tendency to over-simplify things and shout, yet it a testament to the magic trio of factors that render this performance as realistic. The writing is wonderfully colloquial – O’Sullivan doesn’t shy away from some of the harsh terms barked out at each other during a childhood – ‘spaz,’ ‘retard,’ ‘dickhead!’ – all too familiar insults slung at siblings growing up in a particular era. Using games to define the childhood moments, Clements encourages full use of the stage (and even the audience!) that feels all-encompassing.

And, finally, the acting is world-class – Vincent shouts with a pleading tone to her brothers while comforting her sister, eyes wide but with the true conviction of a long-suffering child, forced to grow up too quickly; Abercromby is the gleeful antagonist – the eldest son (a fact he is rather proud of) his sneering jibes at his siblings is so realistic as he easily inflicts chinese burns and spits out cruel barbs designed to cause tears. He’s that good, that at no point does his large beard detract from his childlike mannerisms – you really believe he is an 8-year-old – facial hair and all! Davie is also blessed with a scruffy beard – but his wide eyes and childlike sense of wonder from being the youngest sibling is so real. You will truly feel for him as he attempts to navigate is way up the totem pole, realising that he actually enjoys being at the bottom because no-one comforts you at the top. Finally, Richards gives perhaps the most nuanced performance of her childhood self. Claire suffers from anxiety – she needs stillness and quiet, so a lot of her characterisation is consistent throughout all time periods.

The scenes of childhood flit seamlessly back into present day with a casual change of tone, or a sip of a beer. Andrea and Mitchell are angry at Simon for leaving without even leaving a note. Simon resents their attitudes and wants to do his best to protect Claire’s interests. Claire herself, is more forgiving of Simon – she accepts her fate with calm – reciting her mantra to keep the edge of anxiety at bay. Since childhood, Claire has ‘done the list’ whenever she has an episode. It’s a mantra of sorts, where she goes through the parts of the house – the front door, the bathroom cabinet, the driveway. It is heart-wrenching to watch Richards reciting her list in the midst of so much change – it is a truly inspired and controlled performance.

The Wind In The Underground is about change. It challenges the idea that people really do change and uses a sense of place to ground you. Be prepared to question your relationships and your sense of self. Don’t forget – you have to leave to be able to come back.

WHEN: 27 January – 3 February 2018 | 6:15pm

WHERE: State Theatre Centre WA | Fringe Central | PERTH

INFO: Tickets $26 – $29 | Duration 55 mins | Language warning


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