A potent, considered, and finely crafted work which reminds us how hard it is – and how important – to say sorry.
Could you forgive the person who killed your wife and children? What if it was an accident – the result of a bad day at work when the person responsible was stressed, understaffed, plagued by IT glitches? What if they were an air traffic controller and were responsible not only for your family’s death but the deaths of dozens of others? Could you forgive them if they said they were sorry? And if they refused to apologise – how would you react then?
These and other questions are explored in the latest work from Queensland-based performance ensemble The Good Room in a finely crafted and compelling production which straddles the border between devised work and verbatim theatre. The third piece in the We Want To Know triptych, I Just Came To Say Goodbye explores apology and forgiveness; the two previous works in the cycle, I Want To Know What Love Is (2014) and I Should Have Drunk More Champagne (2013) explored love and regret respectively.
I Just Came To Say Goodbye begins almost ritually, with a team of performers clad in hi-vis moving and rearranging a series of black bags – reminiscent of sandbags – in a series of energetic, carefully choreographed movements. The flood they are preparing for soon follows: a deluge of experiences, splintering sound, shocking bursts of light and emotional and physical struggles enacted by the core cast of four: Caroline Dunphy, Amy Ingram, Thomas Larkin and Michael Tuahine.
We hear stories of assault, of hurt, of betrayal, of shame. Threaded throughout these reports – each sourced from real people and submitted anonymously to the production – comes the central narrative of Vitaly Kaloyev, whose wife and children died in 2002 following a mid-air collision, and his grief-stricken response to that tragedy.
Despite the nature of the stories which are told, and the almost forensic use of lighting, sound and other pieces of stagecraft utilised to present these experiences, the work is never overwhelming. Stories are presented but not embodied; told, but not felt by the audience. Perhaps knowing that these aren’t the performers’ stories to own, there’s a deliberate sense of distance about the production – its skilled creators hold us at arms’ length from the drama so that we observe the events which unfold but are never quite fully caught up in the emotions presented. At times this baffles and frustrates – surely we should feel the work we are experiencing? Afterwards comes a sense of relief – we have witnessed something remarkable but been spared the full, harrowing experience of being made emotionally raw and vulnerable.
Performances are focused and fluid, the text judiciously arranged to foreshadow events to come. At times the stories presented are simplistic, even banal, such a friend’s betrayal at a karaoke bar. At other times the struggles are life-changing, the events discussed immense and unsettling. At no point does the production feel exploitative. Instead of betraying the secrets they have been entrusted with, I Just Came So Say Goodbye honours them in a finely tuned and fascinating work of theatre.
4 stars out of 5
Brisbane Festival and QUT present
I Just Came to Say Goodbye
The Good Room
Created by Lauren Clelland, Caroline Dunphy, Daniel Evans, Amy Ingram, Kieran Swann
Director: Daniel Evans
Producer/Designer: Kieran Swann
Lighting Design: Jason Glenwright
Composer/Sound Design: Dane Alexander
Choreographer: Nerida Matthaei
Fight Choreographer: Justin Palazzo-Orr
Performers: Caroline Dunphy, Amy Ingram, Thomas Larkin, Michael Tuahine
Stagehand/Ensemble: Bryce Bofinger, Alice England, Trent Geary, Bek Groves, Phoebe Hilton, Madeleine McMahon, Jaya Fisher-Smith, Mercedes Woodrow.
Theatre Republic at La Boite
13-16 and 19-23 September
9-30 September 2017