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The Bitterling

Marika Bryant

ROUNDHOUSE THEATRE: The interplay between the characters in ‘The Bitterling’ is live, real and explosive, and sparks many a pensive thought, which, in turn, brings many a moist eye.
The Bitterling
The sound of rain: Put up your hands those of you who aren’t familiar with that sound by now? I thought so………………. It appears that in 1974, Australia Day to be precise, it was veritably dropping from the skies, heralding the disastrous flood that was to engulf Brisbane. As if this wasn’t enough for one small family to deal with (replete with cat on wet tin roof); enter long-lost daughter/mother into this scenario and Sven Swenson (writer/director) has all the grist he needs to keep the audience spellbound for the next three hours. And spellbound we were. “The flood brings……” three wonderfully strong characters onto the set with all the skills to make you laugh, cry, gasp, reel in shock, clench your teeth in anger and look the other way in shame. That’s what I call acting. The fact that one of the characters was named Mima (grandma) and the reason for this name coming about exactly the same way my own mother was nick-named Mima by her grandchildren, well, this had me captivated from word one. So many shared similarities to my own family – and judging by the audience response, I would have to say I was not alone in this premise: This play pulls no punches on the intricacies of family life. Not a normal family life, mind you, but in saying this, I would venture further and admit that there is no normal family life, just the life we are born into; living in the now. The true art of character writing adds a little bit of this and a little bit of them; a touch of love and a lot of angst. Everyone knows these people. Everyone has been there, or heading in that direction, recognising it when they finally arrive. Yesterday, today, tomorrow (botanically speaking), carries you into your own reverie – the perfume can trigger your mind. Three colours in three days; three actors; three hours to mesmerise the audience. Three personalities to appear and disappear only to reappear again, in another bout of thrust and parry. Memories unfold; old hurts and crimes and indignities relived or reinvented. This is a very full play with not too much down-time, no siree. Strong characters and even stronger portrayals of these characters. Wonderful acting and totally convincing. I applaud Louise Brehmer for her tireless (and ever so wordy) portrayal of Rose Cutler, the daughter/mother who came back during the flood to “viperise” into the morally-challenged character we all love to hate. Some of Rose’s venomous comments are pearlers and she pulls no punches. The one-liners and Ozzie slang reminds me of my school days in Manly. Aaarggh. Kevin, the 15 year old “studious, apocalyptic teenager”, played by Dash Kruck, is a faultless presentation of a teenager who is uncomfortable, dumbfounded, shocked and confused – yet wanting to find out as much as he possibly can about his “lineage” before his errant mother takes off again (which is bound to happen, sooner or later). Kevin evolves in front of our very eyes, enamored by his long-lost mum but as the “truth” (or lack of it) unfolds, he is left with himself again. Hurtful comments lose their sting and Kevin works out his level. Rose asks him “who are you, what do you want?” Kevin lives in fear that “all the giants are dying”. Neglect is present – abandonment issues rear their sorrowful heads. Ruby (Mima – I still can’t get over that one) is brought to “larger-than-life” by Kaye Stevenson, an actress with theatre clout. Ruby has her own issues to deal with, and doesn’t need her estranged daughter rocking up now, after disappearing all those years ago, at this time of cataclysmic flooding necessitating packing all those keepsakes and memories into separately marked and allocated tea chests. The interplay between these characters is live, real and explosive, and sparks many a pensive thought, which, in turn, brings many a moist eye. Such quotes as “my father, I don’t need to beg permission”; “my flesh and blood, not hers”; “a total waste of nutrition and housing”; “it will get worse if she smells fear on you”; and “you were already a child prone to nightmares” are still ringing in my ears. The repartee is witty and full-frontal and complacent moments are rare. The mother and daughter slanging matches are so intense it made the uncomfortable silences even more uncomfortable and development of the personas an even richer reward. Minimal set design with pertinent props and clever lighting has always intrigued me, and held me in awe. How do you convey a feeling at the onset and how do you train the audience’s eye (and mind) to absorb what they are about to witness? Setting the scene so the actors can launch into the audience is a skill unto itself. Sound and light embraces the whole and the whole is now complete. The audience left exhausted and emotional – loving every minute of this inspirationally constructed piece. Bravo! The Bitterling - presented by Pentimento Productions and La Boite Indie “Acclaimed Queensland Playwright opens La Boite’s Inaugural Indie Season with New Play” 17th March – 4th April Times: Tues & Wed 6:30pm, Thurs - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm Venue: Roundhouse Theatre, 6-8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove Village, Brisbane, Queensland.
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

Marika Bryant is an artist and writer living in Northern New South Wales, graduating from Southern Cross University (Bachelor of Visual Arts) in 2004. Marika has worked as a writer for magazines, advertising agencies and other ‘strictly for profit’ institutions and is now focussing on her career as an abstract expressionistic, poetry based artist with a twist. Having written (and performed) the odd comedy skit, and been caught behind the microphone once or twice, Marika can empathise with many in the ‘arty world’, knowing that it isn’t always easy!

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