Theatre review: Here, In The Sugarcane

by **

Dear Dad

Three sisters have fled from an inferno that was swallowing up everything in their wake. They find themselves on a desolate sugarcane plat, where, in spite of trees, there is no shade, although surrounded by sugar, there is no sustenance, and despite the prospect of juice, there is nothing to quench their thirst.

Trying to survive in Australia’s mercilessly blistering summer takes the three siblings into a Kafkaesque labyrinth. By the play’s end, what becomes of them remains ambiguous, but the audience is drawn from witnessing the sisters’ external adversities into tasting their visceral pain.

Erin Kelly’s latest play is an enigmatic, poetic piece that tucks grief and loss from the death of a mother beneath bodily struggles in desperate conditions. Its resonance and rigour go well beyond a country-specific context.

Kerith Manderson-Galvin, Lucy Moir and Tegan Crowley are magnificently teamed as Beatrice, Freddy and Lam, respectively. Beatrice, who is used to enjoying new things as the eldest child, clings to tangible objects belonging to their mother; Freddy, the middle sibling, who has always had to make do with hand-me-downs, succumbs to absurd and ridiculously improvised ideas for survival, and builds illusory boundaries of preservation, while Lam, angsty of Freddy’s well-meaning constraints and flummoxed by her elder sisters’ nuanced rivalry, distracts herself with a spot of crackling music and ‘dirty’ dancing.

Brigid Gallacher’s exquisite direction has a touch of the scalpel and her set design is as bleak as the girls’ mental landscape is derelict. While Kelly’s writing fuses the characters’ outside and inner worlds — through Lam’s book-ended narrative of their escape from the fire (bush or crematorium, physical or psychological), for example — the message could not have been realised without Brett Ludeman’s haunting fire-devouring soundscape and Katie Sfetkidis’ eerily effectual lighting. Not forgetting, of course, Isabel Zbukvic’s make-up design, that furnishes the cast with a hue as raw as their anguish of bereavement.

In the end, the sisters’ self-liberation — Beatrice of her mother’s lounge chair, Freddy of her mindless survival tools, and Lam of her begrudging deference — makes for rich metaphorical drama.

Survival may be synonymous with triumph, but, no, not Here, In The Sugar Cane.