Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Apr 10 – 20, 2014
Playwright: Emily Calder
Director: James Dalton
Actors: Melissa Brownlow, Vanessa Cole, Tim Reuben, Tom Christophersen
Image by Lucy Parakhina
Cough is a work about children and parenting. Through its story, we find a palpable and critical investigation into our middle classes. Emily Calder’s vibrant script examines our beliefs, values, and behaviour by placing us in a child care centre, where toddlers are the currency for adult social interaction. We are presented three characters, each a familiar type, with ordinary foibles, all trying hard to be the best parent they could imagine. Complications arise when they move focus away from their individual familial relationships, and become embroiled as a collective of anxious parents, every one “infecting” their counterparts with imagined and paranoiac fears, like a cough that seems to emerge from nowhere, only to overwhelm the masses.
James Dalton’s direction is thoughtful and inventive. The story and its moral are kept central to the production, but an extravagant theatricality is built upon the script’s theme of childhood imagination and fantasy. The stage (designed by Becky-Dee Trevenen) is raised high above the ground even though we are seated close, making us crane up our necks, to watch everything happen like small children caught in the middle of an adult argument. Dalton’s talent at creating atmosphere gives the play a sense of wonderment that evokes not just of innocence, but also the concurrent terror that underlies childhood experiences. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman and sound designer Tom Hogan both show great sensitivity and ingenuity, achieving fabulous effects with minimal facilities.
Actor Vanessa Cole plays the highly unlikable Isabella but wins us over with a dynamic performance that is varied in style, and astutely measured. She develops her character fascinatingly, from a painful parochial stereotype to a heightened state of dramatic derangement. Assisted by a versatile and powerful voice, Cole provides the clearest guide for our navigation through the plot and its ideas. Tom Christophersen is a very tall man playing a three-year-old. His character Frank is created with a brand of outlandish mimicry that is highly entertaining, but also menacing in its surrealism. He is the boy we try hard to forget, but who leaves a lasting impression. Frank is untrustworthy yet seductive, and appropriately, Christophersen captivates us while keeping us quite nervous in his presence.
Growth happens quickly, especially when we are not paying attention. We scuffle with silliness, over details that are inconsequential and petty, to over protect our loved ones, and to feed our egos. In the meantime, life had already happened, and opportunities are missed. The here and now exists, but we sometimes come to it a little late.