Anna (Brenna Hardman) has many questions to ask after spending almost half of her young life medicated on doctor’s advice. Her mother took her to a psychiatrist when she was a girl, scared by Anna’s bold but risky behaviour, now the two are at loggerheads as Anna wants to try going without the medication for a while, to see what happens. She is naturally curious, but she is also questioning the reasoning behind her doctor’s original diagnosis, also, will she ever be able to write again like she did before the drugs enveloped her in a leaden fog?
The very precocious but sharp as a tack Anna is exhausting to watch at times, until she isn’t. Brenna Harding as Anna grapples with the ups and downs of coming down, her manic bearing wearing and worrying her loved ones. Now eighteen, she struggles as she needs to make sense of her identity and her artistic pursuits, beyond her medical prognosis.
Mum Renee (Hannah Waterman) is fatigued after almost twenty years of being mother/carer to what essentially boils down to a special needs child. While medicated Anna is able to move forward, while not she exhibits dark preoccupations to places that Renee feels no young girl should go. Unfortunately Renee’s late husband and Anna’s father indulged the girl in these dark flights of fancy, treating his only child like a star, which most parents now know is the best way to raise a selfish, self-absorbed monster – even without the additional burden of manic tendencies. And despite the fact that papa’s death was long ago, his words to the younger Anna has lead to her belief that she is a tortured genius, albeit one stymied by drugs.
Brenna Harding as Anna is fantastic, since Puberty Blues, Harding has just about cornered the market when it comes to teen angst, this time the angst is next level, with the undisclosed mental illness thrown on top of it all. She manages the very wordy script with aplomb, creating a very real character with legitimate questions. Hannah Waterman as Renee is sympathetic and makes the mum’s heartbreaking concerns very real for the audience. Waterman wears a smiling stoic mask until Anna’s selfish behaviour makes Renee crack. Waterman’s anguish is palpable and a contrast to Anna’s raving.
Support cast Penny Cook as Anna’s psychiatrist and Shiv Palekar as Anna’s boyfriend Oliver round out the cast and are excellent. Cook as Viv treads carefully as the uneasy doctor who is attached to her young patient, but is navigating the transition in therapy carefully as Anna at eighteen is no longer officially a child. The repercussions of this are twofold: Anna at eighteen is automatically more autonomous but her decisions worry her mother, who is now no longer in the doctor/patient loop.
Palekar’s journey (as Oliver) is much more streamlined, Oliver is new to this and is still making his mind up on how to best proceed. Palekar is guarded, in spite of Oliver knowing Renee since he was a child, he too treads a fine line but tries to be loyal to Anna. Palekar has a brilliant moment of distress when Anna lashes out at Oliver, we can feel his hurt as she inflicts her own special brand of thoughtless anger.
Stark white set design by Dan Potra leaves a spotless canvas for the actors to do their work, with little in the way of the unfolding drama. Evocative music complemented this which made for an ending that left hope, and ensured many parents in the audience a brief tear or two.
Just as Anna’s illness lifts teen angst to the next level, director Lee Lewis has transported this play to the theatrical next level, along the lines of The Bleeding Tree (2015), which is good news for all, as the play will no doubt appear again before long.
The Almighty Sometimes is on until 8 September, for more information and tickets see: https://griffintheatre.com.au/whats-on/the-almighty-sometimes/
Featuring: Penny Cook, Brenna Harding, Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman.
Creative/Tech Team: Kendall Feaver (writer), Lee Lewis (director), Scarlet McGlyn (assistant director), Dan Potra (designer), Daniel Barber (lighting design), Russell Goldsmith (sound design/composer), Michelle Sverdloff (stage manager), Ellla Griffin (stage manager secondment).
image by Brett Boardman