Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 27 – Jun 11, 2016
Playwright: Rachel Axler
Director: Stephen Lloyd-Coombs
Cast: Danielle Connor, Kieran Foster, Nick Hunter
Image by Liam O’Keefe
The curve balls that we encounter make life frustrating, and sometimes unbearable. We cannot exist without envisioning the future, but nature insists on disrupting our plans to make destiny something that we can never truly be masters of. In Rachel Axler’s Smudge, Colby and Nick give birth to a severely disabled baby. As the young couple tries to come to terms with the unexpected turn of events, we witness their struggles and disappointment, and measure them against a new life that we have little understanding of but whose rights are unequivocal. It is a brutal set of circumstances, but the play takes a less than obvious approach, avoiding melodrama at all costs in its exploration of relevant issues and of human behaviour.
The play is quirky and often comedic, with director Stephen Lloyd-Coombs maintaining a sensitive, delicate tone over proceedings, but the show is most effective at its darkest moments when characters are intense and irrational. Danielle Connor and Kieran Foster work well at creating believable presences and convincing emotion, but the production’s mildness of demeanour restricts how much it is able to convey on a visceral level. It is a story of considerable gravity, and although powerful in parts, Smudge can seem slightly detached from its own sorrow.
Accomplished work by Liam O’Keefe on lights and sound by Michael Toisuta give tension to the piece, and both conspire to add a dimension of supernaturality and of horror when appropriate. Theatrical pleasure is derived from a quality of surrealness created by O’Keefe and Toisuta’s atmospheric manipulations, and along with Elia Bosshard’s set, leave a strong impression with the show’s aesthetic and technical proficiencies.
We do not talk enough about disability. There is little understanding in mainstream communities about what people’s needs may be, when living with unique challenges. Colby and Nick are isolated, left to nurture a baby that is of them but also radically different from their realm of reality. Their story is an allegory about every person’s conflict with the unpredictability of life, but the specific experience of disabilities, physical and otherwise, must not be overlooked. Conversations needs to be had in order that societies can work towards becoming more inclusive, and we must learn about disadvantages that exist in our communities to bring about equity for all. The new family in Smudge are unable to cope on their own, but with our support, things can only get better.