Review: Wit (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 16 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Margaret Edson
Director: Helen Tonkin
Cast: Matt Abotomey, Nyssa Hamilton, Chantelle Jamieson, Jan Langford-Penny, Yannick Lawry, Hailey McQueen, Shan-Ree Tan, Cheryl Ward
Images by Alison Lee Rubie

Theatre review
Vivian has a brilliant mind, but as she dies of cancer, she finds her mental capacities inadequate in dealing with the experience of a body being ravaged by sickness. Having excelled in academia all her adult life, she is suddenly confronted by a very real mortality that demands more than was ever asked of her. In Margaret Edson’s Wit, we meet a prideful personality who must learn to understand defeat. After an extensive career of being celebrated for her intellectual mastery, we watch Vivian try to mobilise all that she knows, so that even on the occasion of her own death, she may emerge victorious.

The lesson of course, is about humility, in the face of the inevitable. The production, directed by Helen Tonkin, demonstrates with remarkable resonance, that tension between power and loss, as our heroine puts up a gallant fight as many others have done. Wit is the story of a literary scholar, and Tonkin’s work is appropriately sensitive and detailed, in its careful treatment of Edson’s writing. Also noteworthy is Victor Kalka’s lighting design, elegant yet dynamic enough to facilitate gentle shifts in the audience’s emotional responses.

Actor Cheryl Ward does outstanding work in the lead role, intricate with her renderings and persuasive with her assertions. It is a hugely challenging piece for any actor, and Ward rises to the occasion, impressively flexing her muscles, cerebral and sentimental, to ensure that we connect with all of Wit‘s meaningful dimensions. Nurse Susie is played memorably by Hailey McQueen, confident and strong as the character who helps guide us to a state of catharsis, for this often dispiriting play.

There is a hint of regret when Vivan looks back at her life, alone in hospital with no friends and family, aware that the end is nigh. It may be true that she comes to the conclusion that more effort could have been put into relationships, but her extraordinary contribution as thinker and professor constitutes a legacy that will endure long beyond her time on earth. Although not her explicit intention, what Vivian leaves behind, is likely to be far more generous than if she had endeavoured to be a kinder, more loving person. In the end, she suffers a tremendous amount, but the darkness of those final few months do not tarnish what is ultimately, a glorious existence.

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