Directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 8 July - 5 August
The Plant is a new play about loneliness, communication and connection. Sue, grieving after the death of her husband, struggles to find a way express this grief - or more to the point, find someone who will simply listen. Her three adult children are distracted by their own lives and too busy to take the time to give their mum what she needs. Consequently, Sue begins talking to her pot-plant to get by. An inanimate plant not doing the trick, Sue meets a woman she calls Claire who really listens, and she begins dressing up as a plant and acting as Sue's companion. It's a weird concept with a really lovely and relevant message.
Kit Brookman won the Ensemble Theatre New Writing Commission in 2016 with his pitch for a play he would write, which has come to fruition as The Plant. It's a conceptually-driven piece that finds a good flow as the play goes along. However initially I found the play difficult to immerse myself in, with its writing feeling more in the style of a novel than theatrical dialogue. It begins spending substantial time describing action instead of just showing us, describing conversations instead of just having the conversation. It felt frustrating to watch and seemed to undermine the compelling circumstances in the play. Once a shift in the writing style occurs, taking a more theatrical and therefore engaging approach, the show becomes far more interesting.
Elsie Edgerton-Till directs with dynamism, embracing the quirky and bold aspects of the play. Isabel Hudson's costume design follows suit, augmenting the contrast between Sue's kids and Claire the Plant through Claire's vibrant and eccentric costuming. It really takes you by surprise when she enters the stage and is inherently comical. Though Michelle Lim Davidson gives a warm and intriguing performance as Claire, I felt her character was under-developed and didn't actually make sense. I felt confused as to whether she was an illusion or a real person, and once it was established she was indeed a real person, her background and reasoning for dressing up as a plant, as well as some of the complications discovered by Sue's children made very little sense. It seems like a missed opportunity given that hers is an interesting and rather different character to the norm. Helen Dallimore, Garth Holcombe, and Briallen Clarke each bring a personal touch to Sue’s dysfunctional and relatable family. It’s a great choice that Holcombe’s character is in a same-sex relationship because he happens to be gay, rather than using his character’s sexuality to make a point or a statement – this is how more diverse representation will become the norm. Alongside her on-stage siblings, Clarke regularly enhances the humour in each scene, lightening the overall mood of the work. Sandy Gore’s sincerity in her grief and desire for connection as Sue is compelling and feels significant in an age of both loneliness and in an increasingly ageing population.
The Plant is effective in communicating a crucial message in an evocative manner, even if the play’s text doesn't yet feel wholly developed. It really made me think about the way I speak and relate to the people around me that I care about, in particular to my family. In this sense, not only can Brookman's play prompt an audience to empathise with Sue's story, but it can spark a reflection on each person's own life that really could have a positive impact. This is a hard task, so when theatre achieves it, I think we should take note.