Writer: Sylvia Dow
Director: Muriel Romanes
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
In our age of consumerism, where acquisition and accumulation have become life goals, it is all too easy to find ourselves surrounded by stuff we don’t really want, or need.
Magda (Carol Ann Crawford) has been living amongst her years of accumulated stuff, threading her way through a maze of her belongings to connect a kettle to make the Pot Noodle she eats for breakfast every morning. Social worker Jackie (Pauline Lockhart) is supporting Magda to shed some of her excess baggage – literal and metaphorical – in response to complaints from the community about the scale of the hoarding problem, whilst a dead mother and estranged daughter (Rosemary Nairne and Romana Abercromby respectively) take up space in Magda’s mental and emotional world.
Sylvia Dow’s play puts the STUFF (strangely capitalised) front and centre of this sensitively written and emotionally articulate drama, but never develops the idea much beyond the hoarder’s physical manifestation of emotional distress. Magda is haunted by the death of her mother, the departure of her husband, and the daughter she pushed away by her hoarding habit, all of which is conveyed with a lack of subtlety that may be a symptom of trying to pack a big drama into a 45-minute play.
We’re never given time to see the way Jackie’s presence helps Magda resolve the issues of her past – could it really only be down to the regular provision of Gregg’s doughnuts that such emotional change is made? Lockhart’s performance is sympathetic, but it’s not clear whether she is facilitating Magda’s emotional change or merely witnessing it.
As the daughter who took her opportunity to escape, Romana Abercromby conveys well the complexities of re-establishing a relationship with a mother she never really knew. It’s a shame that we learn so little about her new life until the clumsy introduction of a detail in the play’s closing minutes, which poses more questions than the narrative solutions it provides.
Director Muriel Romanes brings a simplicity and softness to the piece, corralling her cast within limited stage space with a deft touch. Her solution for resolving the challenge of representing the stuff of the title is less successful, however, with the cardboard box towers of Magda’s hoard containing miniature dioramas that suggest the quantities of stuff that she has accumulated.
Although these are ably manoeuvred by the cast as the story develops, they never really offer much of a sense of physical presence, and if there’s up-close detail in the designs it’s not apparent beyond the front row of the audience. That they are produced by long-time Romanes collaborator John Byrne (either singly or jointly with Jeanine Byrne isn’t clear) isn’t enough, by itself, to make them successful pieces of stage furniture.
There is an emotional core here that is well expressed and intriguingly explored, but it feels like the play’s brevity may be its weakness.
Runs until 7 November 2018 | Image: Contributed