Writer and Director: Derek Ahonen
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
One of the most famous TV theme tunes of all time repeated the line “I’ll be there for you” over and over again, because being supportive no matter what is one of the core requirements of true friendship. Whatever your friend has done, you take their side, listen to their version of events and make them feel better. But what if your friend commits a serious crime, could you still stand by them? What if your friend wasn’t even real?
30-something Catherine has just done something terrible and the only person she can turn to is imaginary best friend Anita. Having met aged 7 in the school playground, hyper-intelligent Catherine’s life has been a constant struggle for balance, so her mind creates a pal to share her troubles and, while Catherine comes to terms with her crime, her past reveals some long-buried secrets.
Derek Ahonen’s hour-long one-woman show focuses on mental health and the long-term effects of personality disorders. Across seven scenes, Ahonen interlaces Catherine’s modern-day predicament with several scenes from the past to tell a rather dark story of violence and the displacement of trauma. And while the subject matter is difficult, Catherine and Anita feels rather flimsy despite an interesting premise.
Telling the show entirely from Catherine’s perspective and hearing her one-sided conversations with Anita, as well as several other people including her mother, a social worker and an unlikely date works well initially but is rather unvarying as the plot unfolds. Although ostensibly different, each scene follows the same pattern revealing new aspects of Catherine’s story but using her same abrupt reaction and highly-strung personality – which is predominantly played for laughs.
Ahonen’s best scene is the penultimate one in which Catherine overshares on a first date and finds an emotional depth missing from the rest of the show. Once she overcomes her social awkwardness, the way she talks about her past and its consequences is genuinely engaging and meaningful. The longest scene in Catherine and Anita works because Ahonen gives the character more space to come alive, with a valuable self-awareness that gently reveals the very damaged and vulnerable woman suddenly thrust back into the world.
The rest of the play has some interesting points to make, rooting Catherine’s problems in a troubled childhood and using the concept of Anita as a manifestation of her suffering, a mental safety net to protect herself. However, Catherine feels like a series of personality traits rather than a fully-rounded woman and none of the other characters have any depth. If the audience is meant to see everything from Catherine’s perspective then we need to believe in the existence of her wider world as fully as she does.
Seven scenes of varying length is a lot for an hour show, so the play’s construction could be reconsidered. The overarching crime story is a solid frame but given the success of the date scene, rather than acting-out multiple occasions in the past, the content could be compressed into three or four longer scenes with Catherine just vividly describing what happened as a monologue, police interview or in conversation with Anita.
Sarah Roy bravely performs the work entirely alone on stage for an hour which is admirable, and her interpretation works well in the more emotional moments towards the end of the show, but the slightly manic and snappishness idea of Catherine feels contrived, and there is little variation across the different time periods. Even as a 12-year-old she sounds 35, but whether that’s in the writing or the performance is hard to tell.
Holly Ellis’ lighting design works well with the upbeat 60s love-songs between scenes but feels as though it should have a more obvious connection to the story, and tonally Ahonen needs to decide whether this is a black comedy or if it has a particular statement to make about the link between mental illness and violence. Catherine and Anita needs a bit more character work to be entirely satisfactory, and to demonstrate the support even imaginary friends can provide.
Runs until: 24 February 2018 | Image: Dave Walker