Writer: Isabella Perversi
Director: Emma Gough
Simmering with intensity, the one-woman show from Australia relates the story of 27-year-old Fleur. We are introduced to her as she navigates her own birthday party. A casual affair with friends, Fleur (played by Isabella Perversi) fields the questions. How did she spend her day?
The mood drops as she confesses she went to a gynaecological appointment – it turns out she has a pre-cancerous virus. Moaning about “27 being the new 40”, Fleur jokes that her body is quite literally “refusing her lifestyle”.
On the outside, Fleur’s life looks pretty good. She is in a 10-year relationship with boyfriend Joe (one house, no kids). She works in a marketing job – which she classifies as “vague” in comparison to her friend Celia’s high-flying PR role.
This is a common theme as Fleur reviews her life so far: comparing herself unfavourably to bright, hyper-confident Celia. Her best friend is well-travelled and cosmopolitan; her workplace holds Botox Parties instead of after-work drinks. As the birthday girl contemplates her future, she admits to us, as much as to herself, that she feels insignificant, a failure.
Directed by Emma Gough, Ember starts off as a psychological portrait of a millennial. The existential gap between desire and reality is keenly felt by Fleur. She should be happier, wealthier, more successful. She worries about her difficulty in letting go and enjoying experiences, coupled with her tendency to compensate by buying stuff – too much stuff. Performed and written by Perversi, Ember looks at the impact this is having on Fleur’s mental health. We see her struggling to sleep as she replays perceived mistakes and disappointments in her head. Her relationship with her Mum is strained; she also thinks about her future with Joe, and whether it is really what she wants.
Ember begins in familiar territory: the one-woman show with the anxious, yet relatable, protagonist. But as we move through the story, it becomes clear that Fleur’s worries are sharpening off into a tapered point. Job, baby, marriage – the pressure to make a decision is becoming too much. The eager smiles masking anxious thoughts begin to fade away.
Filmed and edited by Ross Dwyer, the camera work incorporates frequent close-ups, helping to build the audience connection with Fleur. Perversi stares through the camera, almost willing us to intercede. As her thoughts become more erratic, the camera lurches, pulling in and out of focus. What started out as intimate becomes far more claustrophobic.
Ember treads a delicate line between psychological drama and dark comedy, and Perversi’s script – packed with one-liners about the zeitgeist – is funny and keenly observant. The cutting jibe smuggled under a softer nuance is a technique that is very current, although with Ember it feels like there’s much more at stake.
It is a sense of pressing urgency – a throbbing at the temples – that Perversi so clearly communicates to us. The slow burn of a mind never fully at rest: Ember illustrates – with care and compassion – the experience of a mental health crisis from the inside out.