Posted by Seanna van Helten
09. Jul, 2013
Fraught Outfit’s Persona presents us with two women; one silent and the other endlessly speaking, her microphoned voice floating in the theatre, at once intimately present and eerily disembodied.
Directed by Adena Jacobs and in its return season at Malthouse Theatre (it premiered last year at Theatre Works with much acclaim), Persona establishes voice as an inherent and inviolable claim to personhood.
Alma (Karen Sibbing) is a young nurse charged with caring for Elisabet Vogler (Meredith Penman): a famous actress who inexplicably falls silent on stage mid-performance. Unable to ascertain a physical cause for Elisabet’s sudden muteness, her psychiatrists send her to recover at a seaside summer home with Alma as her sole carer.
At the home, however, Elisabet remains mute while Alma fills and fills the silence. First with tender, though distant, small-talk and then increasingly with intense personal confession. Alma seems to have found a confidante in her silent companion so when Elisabet betrays that trust Alma’s psychic reality fractures and collides with Elisabet’s tortured own.
Conceived by director Jacobs in concert with designer Dayna Morrissey and lighting designer Danny Pettingill, this production is a confident retelling of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film, that can be read with or without its cinematic reference point.
Morrissey’s design has us peering through a series of curtains into a deeply-set stage, its telescopic frames reminiscent of cinematic composition while also inherently theatrical. Among the cool, blonde wooden interior and refined lines of the summer house, there are all sorts of doublings and visual repetitions that work to bring Alma and Elisabet closer to a state of uncanny psychic overlap.
Daniel Schlusser and young actors Alex de Vos and Julian Mineo appear as dream-like revenants of Elisabet’s family, but it is the charged intimacy between the two women, and the way their relationship exposes the fraught nature of feminine role-playing and the powerplay between voice and voicelessness, that gives this play its lure and power.
Persona is playing at Malthouse Theatre until July 14. For more information and tickets visit: malthousetheatre.com.au
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