Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 13 – 30, 2016
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Nyssa Hamilton, Teale Howie, David Jeffrey, Emily McGowan, Tasha O’Brien, Sarah Plummer, Lucy Quill, Rachael Williams
Image by Katy Green Loughrey
We hear of people going on therapeutic retreats, travelling to the countryside, away from everyday city life, to find themselves. Some sound like lavish holidays disguised as spiritual endeavours, while others seem too challenging for mere mortals to even imagine, such as those who require individuals to be shut off from the world, speaking to no one at all for weeks on end. Cristina locks herself up in her cupboard, compelled to look inward, rejecting efforts to intervene from family and friends. She is determined to withdraw from the noise, and listen only to her own heart.
In Paul Gilchrist’s exceptional and very contemplative play Cristina In The Cupboard, we join a girl on her journey of self-discovery, as she asks all of life’s big questions and takes it upon herself to provide the answers. Like Cristina, the script is charming, intelligent and brave. It is an invaluable expression of the universal but private experience of introspection, giving form to something that is usually subconscious, so that our hidden and buried realities comes to light, and that we may begin to have a better understanding of our minds, along with a warmer regard for our souls.
The vibrant and imaginative production under Julie Baz’s direction works effectively at enhancing the ideas of the play, bringing lucidity to the many deep meditations therein. There are powerful and oftentimes complicated concepts that require the physical dimensions of theatre to put to effect, and Baz negotiates them successfully. Sections of the show could be dealt with with a lighter touch, but the overall impression it leaves is dynamic and surprisingly entertaining. Each of the production’s characters are well considered and delightfully detailed, for a stage that is consistently abuzz with adventure and life. It is a strong cast, featuring Emily McGowan in the title role portraying the demanding duality of girlish innocence and a remarkable wisdom. McGowan’s confident presence allows us to connect with her character’s unusual circumstances, and the precision at which she delivers her performance turns the show’s context of magical realism into something quite profoundly authentic.
Life is hard, and art alleviates suffering by letting us know that we are not alone. As we relate to Cristina’s struggles, we are consoled by the mutuality of all our concerns and anxieties, and in the process come to a re-acquaintance with humanity and its inevitable vulnerabilities. Without art, we are sold only false representations of life that tend only to make things even harder. It is no wonder that we have to hide away, to retreat into spaces of safety that can only be provided by the self, the truth, and everything we trust to be real art.