Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 5 – 27, 2016
Playwright: Sunny Grace
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Cast: Naomi Livingstone, Lucia May, Kym Vercoe
Image by Phil Erbacher
Angelica is under tremendous pressure, having recently given birth to her first baby. The responsibilities of caring for a newborn, and the accompanying social expectations of being a perfect mother, are more than she can bear. Sunny Grace’s The Angelica Complex is about a woman’s painful struggle to cope with the idea of perfection, derived from the prevalence of social media and unrealistic parenting advice. We witness Angelica trying hard to get things under control, but she thinks herself a failure, putting blame on herself, her baby, and society. The entire play has her working through a process of internalised guilt and anger, while ignoring the fact that her husband is almost completely omitted from the narrative.
Angelica blames herself for believing in the myth that “women can have it all” but strangely, and frustratingly, forgets to take the baby’s father to task. While he is out doing whatever that is more important than taking care of his family, absolving himself of paternal duties, Angelica absorbs everything at home, drowning under self-hate and paranoia. She spends her time resenting the yummy mummies on Instagram who make things look a breeze, but accepts her spouse’s abandonment.
Angelica is played by Kym Vercoe, an actor full of energy, magnetism and acuity. Under Priscilla Jackman’s direction, Vercoe delivers an astonishing performance rich with insight and emotion, giving us the opportunity to understand and to feel, what it is like to be in those circumstances. The show’s rhythms shift dynamically and beautifully through the duration, even though the character’s state of mind remains fairly static. Sophisticated video projections by Velinda Wardell are introduced judiciously to add texture, and to inspire our imaginations. It is an involving production that speaks carefully and clearly to its audience, although its arguments are not always poignant.
Angelica does not tell us why she had wanted to have a baby in the first place. It is of course, much too late for her to change her mind, now that she discovers that the truth of parenthood is too overwhelming to cope on her own. The Angelica Complex asks several questions but one of its most potent, is the often unexplained desire to bring new life to the universe. The root of Angelica’s problems may well be the misogynistic manner in which women are told how they should look and act, but the play’s inability to address a rational person’s need to give birth is symptomatic of how our society can take the issue too lightly. Whenever the answer is “just because” or “it’s always been this way”, an opportunity for radical investigation emerges.