Review: Sleeplessness (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Aug 4 – 13, 2022 / Riverside (Parramatta NSW) Aug 19 – 20, 2022
Playwrights: Kaz Therese, Anthea Williams
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Kaz Therese
Images by Anna Kučera, Alex Wisser

Theatre review
Kaz Therese has roots that trace back to Hungary, but for many decades those stories of immigration were kept silent. Shame and trauma prevent us from knowing the truths, behind how we have come to be. Those of us who are undaunted by the challenges that emerge from uncovering and confronting the past, stand to gain so much when those revelations are brought to light. In Sleeplessness, Therese dares to go back in time, almost as an act of defiance against her elders, in order that a sense of liberation can be attained for their family.

Therese’s determination to reach for the truth, provides for the piece, a certain zeal that has us on the edge of our seats. Along with the inherent mysteries that surround these stories about a hidden past, it is Therese’s fearless integrity that proves compelling. Co-written with and directed by Anthea Williams, Sleeplessness is beautifully structured, capable of weaving together multi-generational narratives to form a powerfully coherent portrait, not only of an immigration experience, but also of inter-generational trauma, that many Australians share.

As first-person narrator in this one-person presentation, Therese is a commanding presence, dynamic yet inexorably vulnerable, as they take us through a string of heart-breaking revelations, with an immense and unmistakeable generosity. Supported by video projections (assembled by Zanny Begg), filmed incredibly by Therese half a lifetime ago, on the very same subject, we gain a level of insight rarely paralleled. Sleeplessness tells of someone else’s secrets, but will no doubt resonate intimately, for each individual with whom it connects.

Remarkable lighting design by Karen Norris brings emotional embellishment to the ever intensifying story-telling. Working harmoniously with minimalist physical configurations, and the aforementioned sentimental video elements, Norris demonstrates great sensitivity and elegance, in her calibrations of tension and mood. Music by Anna Liebzeit is appropriately restrained, but no less evocative in the creation of a space that is simultaneously ethereal and heavy, allowing us to travel through the circularity of time, in this contemporary exploration of difficult family histories.

There is a feminist frame to how meaning is conveyed in Sleeplessness. It is indeed helpful to study the women in our past through modern lenses, so that we can apply those discoveries to our lives today, in practical ways, and to ensure that we progress in a way that hardships of our foremothers, can offer more than just catharsis. Following in our mothers’ footsteps, and repeating their patterns, are probably inevitable, for we are genetically entwined, but to learn from the lessons they bequeath, is perhaps the best way to honour their legacy.