Review: Affliction (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Legs On The Wall (Lilyfield NSW), Sep 7 – 8, 2019
Playwright: Lauren Orrell
Director: Steve Le Marquand
Cast: Jack Berry, Martelle Hammer, James Hartley, Deborah Jones, Isaro Kayitesi, Lauren Orrell, Luke Townson
Images by Isaro Kayitesi

Theatre review
Lucy is 12 years old, with mental health issues requiring professional medical care, but she tries to secretly tame elements of paranoia and psychosis, afraid of repercussions if the truth of her condition is made known. Lauren Orrell’s Affliction reveals the stigma surrounding mental illness, and the ignorance that still exists in relation to the subject. It offers a valuable glimpse into personal experiences that are too often hidden, allowing us to gain a better understanding of those challenges. The play is sometimes educational in tone, but its best moments are humorous in an absurdist style, with an irony that is smart and satisfying.

Directed by Steve Le Marquand, the production is macabre but surprisingly colourful in its explorations of some very dark ideas. A more intimate environment would allow us greater engagement with the characters, but the vastness of space is otherwise visually appealing. A video interlude by Marianne Khoo brings an unexpected dimension to the story, and an additional opportunity for twisted laughs that many will find enjoyable. Music by Clare Heuston offers excellent tension to some very theatrical scenes of psychological turmoil.

Playwright Orrell is also star of the show, convincing in her portrayal of a troubled child, strong not only with the emotions she is able to express, but also with the sheer physicality that she presents on stage. A grotesque nurse Doreen, is played by James Hartley whose comedic chops prove to be highly amusing. It is a small part that leaves us wanting much more. Deborah Jones is fabulous in her various roles, impressive with the range of monstrous personalities she is able to embody so effortlessly.

Affliction can feel pessimistic, but its creator makes a powerful and positive statement, about overcoming adversity with this ambitious work. Orrell talks openly about her own struggles with mental health, and to see her channelling those frustrations into art is most reassuring. We see a woman rejecting cultural impositions, choosing instead to define her own life, and to build her own identity, from what she sees to be authentic and meaningful. Disadvantage can sink us, but more than likely, the human spirit can see us swimming our way to the top.