I didn’t lay a finger on her. I didn’t hire anyone to sneak in and murder her. And yet it’s as if I killed her.
The opening lines of this one woman performance that immediately grab your attention. But this is no remorseful Antonio Salieri, rather a Canadian housewife lost in guilt in a small village in Quebec. The ‘her’ in question is a friendly neighbour who died after giving birth to her fifth child. The woman, played by Gemma Cavoli in a tour de force performance, then recounts their friendship and the events that are the cause of that guilt, all the while composing To Do lists, themselves complicit in her fragile emotional state.
This is a combination of wonderful writing (the original French text by Jennifer Tremblay translated into English by Shelley Tepperman) and impressive acting from Cavoli. She inhabits multiple characters including young children and even grandparents with such an expressive face and great skill that by the time the story comes to its devastating conclusion you are totally immersed in this wintry microcosm. There is a real connection between actor and audience enhanced by the intimate setting at The Guild Studio.
The lists themselves and the ritual of making them are a barometer of the woman’s emotional wellbeing. They give solace and certainty in routine but ultimately are the very thing that proves the woman’s undoing. There is a rhythm in their construction, like a metronome, and when things get out of whack that metronome oscillates out of control as the woman becomes more frantic. But in making the lists has she overlooked the very essence of what makes a friendship, a marriage, a life really work?
There is such attention to detail here in the descriptions of this woman’s day-to-day life, her thoughts, her reactions, the sense of isolation and emotional decay. The story unfolds with great skill as we are drawn more and more into this relationship between the woman and her neighbour. Gentle humour is used throughout and many of the situations will be instantly familiar from managing a ‘brood of children’ to trying to make friends in a new place to those craved for moments alone to indulge yourself away from parenthood and responsibilities if but briefly. Sprinkle this with a poetic sensibility to the language being used and there is an honesty and insight that is compelling.
Director Suzanne Ingelbrecht allows Cavoli to make full use of the small performance space and she takes full advantage, roaming across the stage. The set itself is simple with a desk, coat stand and a small child’s chair. A note pad on the desk takes on increasing significance. On the back wall are white curtains where ‘windows’ are projected and there is lovely use of lighting to convey different moods and to denote change of setting.
This really is a wonderful piece of theatre and a quite demanding monologue that has so many textures and hues. Cavoli is outstanding and received well deserved applause with many people staying behind with one main question to ask – how long did it take you to learn all those lines? That she did and delivered them so expertly is a testament to her skill.
The List, tucked away in The Guild Studio in East Perth, may not be in the hubbub of the Cultural Centre or Pleasure Gardens but it is definitely worth the effort to discover as a gem of this year’s Fringe World. It runs until 1 February and bookings can be made here.