Wednesday 6 August 2008

Chrysalis, Aug 6, 2008 ***

By Dina Ross by Soul Theatre & La Mama
Where and When: Courthouse Theatre, Wed to Sun until Aug 23
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

There is tragedy in the death of any infant but the trauma escalates with multiple deaths and the mother is under suspicion. Dina Ross's play, Chrysalis, investigates the manslaughter trial of a woman whose three babies died suddenly.

The story is based on real trials. In England, Professor Meadow, an expert on cot death, devised an infamous rule that damned innocent women: “One death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder.”

The accused is Annie (Sarah Borg), a surly, angry, under-educated young woman of 23 who had three babies by three different fathers. Assumptions of guilt are made about her based on prejudice and inaccurate evidence. Annie was an abused child. She is religious and believes that her babies’ deaths are a punishment from God.

Ross’s script is stark and almost documentary in style, constructed around court testimony, legal meetings and police interrogations.  The writing is most effective when characters express passionately personal experiences. More often the dialogue is didactic and expository. David Myles clinical direction matches the reserve of the script.

There are broader issues of parenting and loss. Annie’s lawyer, Steffie (Imat Akelo-Opio), was adopted at birth and cannot have children while the pathologist (Bruce Kerr) is traumatised by his son’s death.

Borg is credible as Annie, playing her with adolescent defiance. Kerr is dignified as Lawrence and Akelo-Opio warms to her role when expressing strong emotion.

Peter Mumford’s innovative design uses projections to create locations on an austere stage. The opening image of butterflies is startlingly beautiful. Dim, atmospheric lighting (Bronwyn Pringle) emphasises the grim mood.

Chrysalis is a compelling argument for the legal notion of “reasonable doubt”.


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