Review: The Heidi Chronicles (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 9, 2016
Playwright: Wendy Wasserstein
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Sarah Aubrey, Matt Charleston, Lauren Dillon, Caroline Levien, Olivia O’Flynn, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Darren Sabadina, Benjamin Winckle
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles first appeared at the end of the 1980’s when American women were beginning to crack the glass ceiling, and when second-wave feminism was approaching its last days. The play examines the life of Heidi Holland from high school to middle age, beginning in 1964 through to 1989, charting the progress of white middle-class women through those three decades of the second-wave. Another thirty years (almost) have past, and we wonder how much has progressed since. “Can we have it all?” remains a question that only one of the genders asks herself, and the ambiguous conclusion to Heidi’s story confronts our contemporary sensibilities, leaving us to meditate on our place in society today.

Director Alice Livingstone presents a vibrant production that wears its heart on its sleeve, with an unmistakeable affection for the play’s nostalgia guiding us through Heidi’s years of development. It is a work painted with broad strokes, and although nuance is not always delivered, the staging of each scene is crisp and impactful. Refreshing and inventive use of space, along with Livingstone’s choice of projections help elevate the visual content of its otherwise basic design aspects.

Performers demonstrate an earnest conviction that encourages us to get involved with their stories. Leading lady Lauren Dillon does not seem to possess sufficient maturity for the portrayal of Heidi’s life in later sequences, but her confident presence stands her in good stead with the audience, and her passionate interpretation of a crucial monologue gives the poignant work its heart and soul. Darren Sabadina and Sarah Aubrey leave remarkable impressions with their exuberant and adventurous approach to their respective roles, both detailed with their characterisations and humorous at every appropriate opportunity. There are moments in the show of great chemistry between actors, but also scenes in which people do not seem to connect. Nevertheless, this production of The Heidi Chronicles is consistently enjoyable, and many will find its explorations meaningful.

Heidi lives a feminist life because she is in charge of her own destiny. The rules are her own, and she does not seek approval for her decisions. No one lives in a bubble, and we all find inspiration from other lives, but self-determination for every individual should be afforded and supported by our civilisations. A feminist does not have to look a certain way or prescribe to any particular doctrine, but she needs to be aware of her power, where it comes from and the battles that were fought for it to exist.