Review: Fallen (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 6 – 22, 2017
Playwright: Seanna van Helten
Director: Penny Harpham
Cast: Lucy Goleby, Megan Holloway, Chantelle Jamieson, Abbie-lee Lewis, Moreblessing Maturure, Rebecca Montalti, Eloise Winestock
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is 19th century England, and the women in Seanna van Helten’s Fallen are told what to wear, how to act, and which to think. The story takes place in a kind of halfway house, where women who have transgressed morality are banished, to be put through a process of rehabilitation. There is a Victorian severity to these characters’ lives, but what the play demonstrates more relevantly, is how those archaic ways retain control over us today; we still insist on telling women how they should look and behave.

Van Helten’s writing is subtle, a quiet mystery with depths of emotion and meaning, discoverable under surfaces of restrained tumult. The six women of Fallen reveal little, but an authenticity is nonetheless present. The work is challenging to perform. Actors are required to imagine all that is hiding between the lines, and the bolder they are at manifesting the unsaid, the more effective their show becomes. It is a likeable ensemble, but not always powerful enough to overcome the cryptic nature of the writing. Lucy Goleby is matron of the house, a staunch, stern character who is depicted with a greater sense of definition than the rest. We rely on Goleby to bring the drama, which she does often, especially when she taps into the eerie, slightly gothic quality that the piece lends itself to.

The production has a mild temperament, almost timid in its expressions. At its best, Fallen is haunting and transcendent, but the show can quickly turn tepid and consequently lose connection with its audience. We wonder what the women had done to have them condemned, and who they truly are, but our interest seems to swell and wane, through different junctures of the plot. There are moments of design brilliance to relish; Raya Slavin’s music and Sian James-Holland’s lights are attractive, even though inconsistencies in atmosphere add to the show’s issues with dramatic tension. We see all the potential on this stage, and wish for greater impact, with more audacious approaches.

The women in Fallen have no choice but to be compliant. Our world today is significantly different, with much more liberated attitudes than before, yet we submit everyday, to fears of stepping out of line, whether or not repercussions are real. We alter our own behaviour to conform and to appease, and expect the same of other women. Well-behaved women seldom make history, but it is not only for the momentous that we should dare to be ourselves. It is what happens in our regular day-to-day that requires us to be vigilant over the power that we own and that we should never be fearful of.

www.sportforjove.com.au

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby

Moreblessing Maturure: Fallen is a new Australian work. Why do we need new work and why did you choose this new work?
Lucy Goleby: I think it’s really important that theatre reflects, questions and challenges its social, geographical and political context. New work speaks to audiences with an immediacy, an urgency and a familiarity that makes an audience’s experience inside the theatre change the way they interact with the world outside it. This play, Fallen, allows audiences to do some of that metaphorical work themselves, asking them to draw conclusions and discover points of similarity and difference between London in 1848, we create for them onstage, and the world of Sydney in 2017, as they create for themselves offstage. Fallen seeks to explore the role of women in a patriarchy, how their relationships within a patriarchy are constructed and destroyed, and what, ultimately, empowerment looks like.

Is working in the female-led space that She Said Theatre encourages different to your previous acting experiences? If so, how?
Working with She Said and the incredible company of women has been challenging and empowering. I talk of Facebook and social media as an echo chamber, with my own opinions and passions reverberated back at me by like-minded individuals. In this room, I am surrounded by opinions and passions as fervent as my own. In simultaneously supporting and challenging each other, we have been strengthening ourselves as women to support and challenge the society we live in. Knowing that these remarkable women are conducting themselves with poise, passion, determination, intelligence and love makes me feel stronger and safer in my pursuit to do the same.

How can today’s 21st century society hope to relate to this text and its characters?
I think today’s audiences are smart story-recipients. They’re clever and quick with metaphor and symbolism, and easily capable of drawing comparisons between their own lives and experiences and those presented to them. Beyond that, the enormous revolution in television in the last five-odd years has created an audience that understands how to invest in multiple characters and multiple plotlines. Stories matter to us when we can see ourselves in them. This play and its women are both deeply familiar and uncomfortably confronting to the experience of 21st century Australian women. And men who’ve ever met a woman.

What would your character, Matron, think of 21st Century Australia?
I think Matron would be entirely overwhelmed and relieved. She is in the unenviable position of upholding and maintaining the very system that disenfranchises and devalues her. We’ve been talking a fair bit in rehearsal about the perpetuation of bad advice, and the insidious inheritance of unconscious bias. I believe in that idea that you can only dream what’s seen, and Matron’s capacity to make any kind of difference for the girls in her care is fundamentally flawed because she can’t dream a life for them that’s any different from her own.

Who should I invite to come and see this show?
Anyone who cares about what it means to be human. And those who like a stunning multimedia, fragile soundscape, emotionally rich direction, clever, detailed language, an intricate flexible set or a fully boned corset complete with hand-sewn period dresses. And your mum.

Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby: Describe the world of the play Fallen in five words.
Moreblessing Maturure: Precarious. Tense. Measured. Full. Live

What is one of the questions you hope this play asks or answers?
This is probably the thing I look forward to the most about this play- the foyer conversations before the play, during the intermission and in pubs, cars and trains after the curtain call. I asked a lot of questions after my first reading and I’d be more than content if the audience was also curious after watching the play, curious enough to read up about the history of Urania Cottage, the history of Australia, the herstory of women and particularly, these women. One burning question I’d hope this play asks is “where are we know?” Compared to 1846- where are we as a society when it comes to our relationship with our history, with femininity and liberation.

What has been the most unexpected moment or discovery of the process so far?
Aside from the phone call from Penny (the director) telling me I was going to play Julia, realising how noticeably different working in an unapologetically female-led and centred space was. Not only for myself as an individual but also as an artist, realising that “the norms” of a theatre space, which I’d learnt to be the ‘rules’ of theatre making-didn’t have to be so- that there was a different way to approach, to analyse to process to imagine stories- and that way was equally as valid . #suchdeep #muchwow

How is your character, Julia, similar to and different from you and what have you learned from her?
Julia, unlike myself, has a steadfast faith in the system she finds herself, in meritocracy- the notion that hard work leads to success (however that manifests) and thus any failure is due to individual inadequacy. That was the first big obstacle i had to work through in understanding Julia, as to WHY someone who has been wronged by her society in so many ways, continues to obey by the rules that actively maintain her lowly position. Julia also manages to be very similar to me in the way she navigates her world, in her ability to master the act of appeasing and knows how to keep-up-appearances when all she wants to do is yell to the heavens..yeah, we’re pretty Kool Kats

How will this play have changed you, as an actor and a person?
As a testament to Penny’s incredible ability, It’s introduced me to a new way to approach, discover and understand a character. This play has also set a precedent for myself as an artists as to the amount of complexity and nuance I am will accept in a role. Female roles aren’t accessories to adorn a male centric narrative- they deserve to be written with truth and dimension and dare I say: virility.

Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure can be seen in Fallen by Seanna van Helten.
Dates: 6 – 22 Apr, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre