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The Plant

Lynne Lancaster

A quirky play about family relationships , depression, grief and loss, and more.
The Plant
Sandy Gore and Michelle Lim Davidson in The Plant. Photo by Prudence Upton.

The latest play from the weird and wonderful pen of Kit Brookman (A Rabbit for Kim Jong-il, Small and TiredThe Great Fire etc) and winner of the 2016 Ensemble Theatre new writing commission, The Plant is strange and unsettling – at times quite funny with biting, witty dialogue, at other times incredibly moving. It blurs the barriers between reality and illusion and examines family relationships, grief and loss.

Three years after the sudden death of her husband, Henry, Sue is still grieving and her life feels blank. Her three adult children, while concerned, are mostly distant and distracted, caught up in the daily whirlwind of their own lives. For almost the first time in her life, Sue’s alone. She decides to take drastic action: to be surrounded by life, even if that life is vegetable. But when you need to talk, plants don’t necessarily make the best conversational partners. So Sue decides on a radical solution – one that means her children will have to deal with an unexpected new arrival in the family…

The minimalist, streamlined set (Isabel Hudson) is predominantly green with some light curtains. The play is set in contemporary times. Costumes (wardrobe coordinator Alana Canceri) are ordinary day wear – apart from the amazing design for Clare as a begonia.

Sue is trying to cope with a personal crisis: in effect how to discover and reaffirm ownership of her own life, because for years she has been defined by her roles as a wife and mother to three – and she does not want to bear the label of widowhood. She buys a pot plant and calls it Clare so she can talk to it, because plants can’t hold a conversation. (Or can they? Is Clare real? A figment of Sue’s imagination? A con artist dressed as a plant impersonator?) Sue is lonely and feels that her three adult children do not listen. Is she still trying to come to terms with her grief, or does she, as Daniels suggests, know exactly what she is doing and is manipulating her three adult children? All four lives seem to unravel.

Under Elsie Edgerton-Till’s excellent, sensitive direction each of the small cast of five give tremendous performances.

Sandy Gore as still grieving Sue is superb, giving a bravura performance of poignant, quiet intensity.

As Clare, a Rex Begonia – a glorious costume – Michelle Lim Davidson is stunning, blooming and luxurious. When in ‘human’ form, in street wear, she is sweetly pretty. Does she have hidden secrets?

Garth Holcombe as Daniel is concerned for his mother Sue but also stressed out, facing the break up with his boyfriend that drives him to drink. He is as supportive as possible but also heavily distracted with work and his personal life.

It is Naomi (Briallen Clarke) who first picks up on Clare’s appearance at Sue’s house (She was also the one to find her father Henry). Naomi is perhaps the youngest of the three, possibly more eccentric, intense and impulsive, rather a misfit wild child who loses her a call centre.

Erin (Helen Dallimore) is a successful literary agent trying to organise her next book. She always tries to take charge, has two children and is frantically attempting to juggle home life and work. She has a wonderful monologue about her love/hate relationship with her children and irresponsible husband.

We see how the rollercoaster of life hits Dan, Erin and Naomi when Clare vanishes, having cleaned Sue out. Naomi has a wonderful lyrical monologue about impulsively escaping responsibility, just for a little while, on a ferry.

There are overlapping speeches at times. At various points the four humans act as narrator, describing what happened/how they felt. There is also some witty dialogue about the differences between humans and plants and some very powerful monologues.

In an intense scene the family eventually gather and Daniel, Erin and Naomi confront Clare demanding to know the truth – who is she? Only Sue stands up for her.

The final scene with its golden sunset glow is very moving.

A magnificently acted, thought provoking play that leads to discussion about powerful issues of aging, loss, coping with depression and tense family dynamics. 

4 stars out of 5

The Plant 
By Kit Brookman 
Designer: Isabel Hudson
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Brockman
Sound Design: Darryl Wallis
Cast: Briallen Clarke, Helen Dallimore, Sandy Gore, Garth Holcombe, Michelle Lim Davidson 

The Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli  
13 July – 5 August 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.