An inspired and thought-provoking work
By Leeor Adar
Feminist collaborators and visual provocateurs, The Rabble (Emma Valente and Kate Davis), bring audiences, My Dearworthy Darling, a thought-provoking work that is both entrancing and utterly disconnected all at once. I was particularly titillated that I’d be critiquing the work of the widely respected writer, Alison Croggon, a former critic that I both admire and who’s theatrical opinion I’ve revered. It is surprising to me then to find that I have a love-hate relationship with this work, which sets my mind into motion and confounds it equally.
My understanding is thus: our leading woman (Jennifer Vuletic) is struggling with her mental health as she wrestles her own image of herself away from her worst emotional abusers, her partner (Ben Grant) and her sister (Natalie Gamsu), who are also gripped with the torments of their life and its mundanity. In breaking free, Vuletic’s character strikes a chasm to the past, unravelling her own mind and reflecting the collective woes of womankind to a time where voicelessness was enshrined.
The chorus of medieval voices is perhaps the most breathtaking part of this production. Croggon’s inspiration here was taken from her residency in France’s monastery and centre for theatre writing, La Chartreuse. Inspired by Margery Kempe, a 14th century English Christian mystic, who’s book was considered to be the first autobiographical work, the chorus speaks the text of this work as Vuletic’s modern woman is grappling with telling her own truth, rather than through the twisted reflection of others.
It’s brilliant to me that in Croggon’s own words, the “writing is not so much about conscious intention as it is about process and discovery”, and My Dearworthy Darling achieves exactly that. Like an unfurling scent, I am at first overwhelmed and unable to see the notes for what they are, but with time I see with clarity the complexity of its character. The work on first impression, is a high-brow ‘art for art’s sake’ snobbery into the woman’s mind, with particularly gifted composing (Valente), and set and costume design (Davis). But with deeper introspection, I see where the Croggon/Rabble collaboration was reaching for.
The play splits between often humorous and relatable daily modern drudgery, and the other realm of our lead’s enigmatic psyche. The work opens with Vuletic sprawled sensually upon a boulder, silk-satin, languid-limbs, describing in luscious detail how her body is exposed and caressed. This visual and erotic reverie is interrupted by her partner, accusing her of poor memory as he refuses to take responsibility, an assault upon the earlier voluptuousness. The woman here is servile, not in charge of her voice or body, but a vessel without steam. This emptiness continues to pierce her reality, and she is accused by her sister of being selfish and cruel, goading the partner’s disgust. Unsurprisingly, facing the internalised misogyny of the existing women of her life, Vuletic’s character retreats in her mind to a world where she is supported in body and mind by the hooded chorus. After a particularly brutal episode in her current reality, she is taken to a place without hard edges (a mental health care facility perhaps) and ascends to take a crowning place amongst the medieval chorus, eventually stripping herself bare of her life before.
My Dearworthy Darling will divide its audiences, and this is largely due to its disjointed and often confusing trajectory. What one can do is enjoy the lush language, stunning visuals and Old English choral pieces. It is an inspired and thought-provoking work, but I too left the theatre wanting to perch myself upon a rock, and contemplate what it is I’ve been exposed to, and if that’s all there really is.
My Dearworthy Darling will be performed at the Malthouse Theatre’s Beckett Theatre until 18 August 2019. https://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/my-dearworthy-darling
Photography by Zan Wimberley