Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), May 20 – Jun 18, 2022
Playwright: Melissa Bubnic
Director: Andrea James
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Amy Hack, Jillian O’Dowd
Images by Clare Hawley
Grace is 87, and everything in life has become a pain. Seeing that there is no joy left in anything, she decides to take her death into her own hands. This however is not a popular decision, with Grace’s daughter and granddaughter, who are not quite as ready to lose a loved one. Melissa Bubnic’s Ghosting the Party may have chosen to talk about the oldest topics, of family and of death, but in fact does so by offering an ultramodern take on life, and on the agency of our women and our aged. Bubnic’s expressions are both emotional and pragmatic, coming from a place of immense honesty, whilst demonstrating deeply impressive analytic capacities. Ghosting the Party is a highly intelligent, and provocative, piece of writing, but also supremely funny, able to thoroughly entertain, as it makes clever arguments about some of life’s most serious matters.
Bubnic’s wonderful words and ideas, are brought to the stage by director Andrea James, who is herself brilliantly humorous. James’ show is simultaneously poignant and comedic, able to move us to tears, not only through its sentimentality, but also by way of some very wicked laughter. With James at the reins, Ghosting the Party is intellectually engaging, and endlessly amusing; certainly one of the best shows you can hope to see at any theatre, at any time.
Designer Isabel Hudson does a splendid job of the set and costumes, making witty references to feminine stereotypes, drawing attention perhaps, to the gendered way we talk about so many things, even at the point of death. Lights by Verity Hampson are memorable especially in moments of melancholy, able to swiftly alter our responses to accommodate the complex amalgamation of feelings that the play evokes. That constant shifting of emotional gears, is further assisted by the music and sound design of Phil Downing, which help us connect to both the realist dimensions and the play’s more abstract ones. The show’s design aspects conspire perfectly, to deliver something that is thoughtful, silly, happy and sad, all at once.
Occupying our attention most intensely however, is the divine Belinda Giblin, who is simply resplendent in the role of Grace. Her work seems infinitely intricate and detailed, allowing us to comprehend the story at great depth and unbelievable nuance. Giblin is as hilarious as she is touching, with a conviction and confidence that is rarely paralleled. Equally passionate is Jillian O’Dowd, who plays daughter Dorothy with an exceptional sense of ironic glee. Her depictions of vulnerability and frustration, form a wonderfully convincing, and endearing, portrait of the middle-aged Australian everywoman as she exists today. Amy Hack is granddaughter Suzie, authentic and strong, in the way she conveys the internal conflicts that inevitably arise, when trying to cut the apron strings and carve her own way.
The first thing we hear in Ghosting the Party, are these stirring words, “No-one ever came back but all reports indicate it’s lovely.” Nobody knows for sure, what happens on the other side, but we all hold cultural and individuated beliefs that pertain to the afterlife. What is irrefutable however, is the sorrow that comes with the sudden absence of a loved one. Love does not make its presence more felt, than when a person goes away. Eternally wondrous, however, is that love never disappears with death. It is that prolonged lingering, that makes us think that we do not simply end this way. Whatever it may be, the truth is that all we can do, is try to love in a way that leaves no room for regret, even if all is only silence thereafter.