Review: Possessions (Escape Artists)

rsz_possessions_imgp9656Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 5, 2014
Playwrights: Jane Bergeron, Carrie Ann Quinn
Directorial Support: Luke Mullins, Anna Kamarali
Actors: Jane Bergeron, Carrie Ann Quinn, Frances Attard, Morgan Davis, Shane Waddell, Samantha Stewart

Theatre review
Possessions is about the aristocratic Mancini sisters, Hortense and Marie, from 17th century Italy. The script is based on their memoirs, published in an era where female memoirs were a revolutionary concept. There is a distinct appeal in featuring unusual historical figures, especially ones who had broken moulds and lived extraordinary lives, but it can be a challenging task finding a way to relate past stories of nobility to our modern times.

Often, comedy is the key to telling courtly tales. Absurdities abound and it is natural to respond with incredulity and humour. Those lives are so thoroughly alien to what we experience today, that laughter is the most direct reaction. The production is consciously directed towards finding comic elements in the Mancinis stories, and significant effort is put into creating a Black Adder type tone to the proceedings, but the performers’ skills seem to lie in areas other than comedy, such as melodrama and musical theatre. Fortunately, both Jane Bergeron and Carrie Ann Quinn both have opportunities to showcase these skills in the concluding scenes, even if they do appear too late.

There are a number of instances where an actor plays herself and interacts with a Mancini sister across time and space. These moments suggest the feminist theme, but they are fleeting. We do sense in the play’s undercurrent, the creators’ interest in the evolution of women’s statuses, but they miss the opportunity to explore and expound things further. The production needs a certain aggression. The Mancinis’ story develops to a point where the women are forced by circumstance to show courage and conviction. In order to progress, they found a belligerence to push their lives forward, and that seems to be the lesson we have to learn from many who have left their mark.