Dysfunction. Denial. Disintegration.
Pardon the alliteration but those were the three words that came to mind after watching Frames at the Subiaco Arts Centre tonight.
How we can all be dysfunctional in our own ways, small or large. How a family unit can be dysfunctional as a result... or perhaps is the catalyst for our imperfections; comments made in jest or repeated observations no matter how seemingly innocuous affecting self-esteem and behaviour.
Then there is the denial of our true state of mind or physical appearance or both. How we lie to ourselves to justify our choices no matter how extreme. Not to mention the denial of the actions of others and their impact, especially those closest to us.
How these things can lead to the disintegration of a person, a family, and in a wider sense, a community.
Then there is the disintegration of a body as it falls below a certain weight and starts to shut down.
Yes, Frames has some very serious topics in mind but doesn't present them in a didactic way at all.
It follows Lizzie (Maja Liwszyc), the anorexic daughter of frazzled Barbara (Angelique Malcolm) whose svelte modelling days are long over and Ken (Maitland Schnaars) who enjoys a social drink with his (unseen) mates a little too much. Unlike her sister, Jackie (Keren Schlink) isn’t likely to leave an uneaten meal at dinner time. Then there’s Ben (Nick Pages-Oliver), Lizzie’s boyfriend who likes to get high and whose mother is having an affair with Ken.
The first act sets up all of these people’s manifest flaws and how they create friction within the family unit. It ends with Barbara’s horror at the belated discovery of how thin her daughter has become. The second act ramps up the drama as Lizzie is rushed to hospital only to run away when her pleas that she will eat everything “including the plate” if only she’s allowed to go home fall on deaf ears. The family disintegrates as she reveals her father’s infidelities and a surprise tragedy comes from left field to add to the gloom. But the play ends on somewhat positive note as we fast forward to a time when Barbara and her daughters are attempting to order a meal at a fancy café with the suggestion Lizzie is on her way to some sort of recovery.
Liwszyc is excellent as Lizzie - playing her as an exuberant 10 year old; a sullen and secretive teenager; and even a little known saint who lived on naught but air. It is a very physical performance as Lizzie jogs, does sit-ups, and clambers all over the dining room table, ever conscious of her calorie intake and the need for exercise. The most telling scene is when she pleads with her mother to be released from hospital, unable to fool the doctor well versed in her type of deflections and schemes. It is intense and raw.
Malcolm gives Barbara a sense of whimsy for glories long past and moments of ‘mum humour’ that creates empathy for when she faces the twin blows of her husband’s betrayal and her daughter’s plight. The family interactions in all their arguments and 'parent versus teenager' stand-offs felt credible and real. Schlink adds pointed commentary in a charmingly naff manner, her character seemingly unaware of the drama swirling around her. Schnaars is given little more than 'the remote father' who embraces alcohol and another woman more than his family. He has a moment of true anger at Lizzie and later a stab at reconciling with her as they watch football together in a flash forward to when he has left Barbara for Ben’s mum. Pages-Oliver is all goofy charm as Ben and impressed in his brief turn as the doctor though his circling of the family (mirroring Lizzie’s kinetic energy) was a curious choice perhaps designed to distract from the exposition dump.
The space in the studio theatre was well used with the family table and chairs creatively doubling for different settings. There were a variety of frames scattered around the set that the actors would stand in or peer through when not being featured in a scene. This gave me a sense of the main players being watched – judged maybe – though image is clearly a main theme and how it can be perceived or distorted through the frameworks we apply.
This is confronting material, well handled in an intelligent manner with a compelling central performance. I may not be the target audience but I found Frames thought provoking and engaging theatre. Written by Louise Helfgott and Directed by Helen Doig, Frames is on at the Subiaco Arts Centre until Saturday 31 May before moving to the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, 4-7 June.