Thursday, 25 June 1998

Tell Her that I Love Her, June 25, 1998

Tell Her that I Love Her by Somebody's Daughter Theatre
Beckett Theatre until July 11, 1998
Sacred Promise opens July 8, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed round June 25

A child's voice in the audience whispered, "What's dope?" You can bet that the characters and some of the actors in Tell Her That I Love Her wish they had never found out the answer to that question themselves.

Somebody's Daughter Theatre has remounted its 1991 production which was developed, under the direction of Maud Clark, in workshops with women in Fairlea prison. The play incorporates the painfully real stories of those women, some of whom are still in the cast.

Within a loose narrative built around Jessie's (Tracey Forward) release from prison, we hear disturbing stories of childhood sexual abuse, abandonment, adoption, foster homes and drug-fazed mothers.

Live music by Greg Sneddon on upright piano underlines dramatic moments but is essentially used for songs which pepper the scenes. John Beckett's beautiful design is evocative of St.Kilda pier with crisp white sails and rough wooden decking embedded in sand.

The structure may be predictable, the gestural language awkward, the writing sometimes melodramatic and the acting limited, but the intention of this community theatre company is not to compete with a Melbourne Theatre Company production.

Rather, it is to give these women a voice, a channel of communication by which they can shout the stories of their lives from the ramparts. The truth of what they tell us and their commitment to their stories carries the play and gives it a resonance not found in fictional piece.

We see a series of scenes begining with Jessie's first day out and her meeting with her old friends, (Maud Clark, Helen Barnacle, Nicol Morrow) some of whom have have kicked their habits and are struggling to survive, another has overdosed and a third, Tuesday, (Kharen Harper) Jessie's lover, is unable to stop using.

The tragedy is in the relentlessness of Tuesday's decline, the insidiousness of the lure of the drug for Jessie and the ease with which the addict can acquire it on the streets in an underworld which few of us encounter.

The play reaches a poignant and tear-wrenching ending which is heightened by the women tossing roses onto the sand-covered ground as they call the names of their dead friends. The list is distressingly long.


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