Directed by Alice Livingstone
542 King Street, Newtown
Season: 7 June – 9 July
Gender politics are embroiled in a woman’s life, at every stage. Call me a raging feminist, but from the moment a baby identified as a girl rather than a boy, the language that surrounds the child changes. She is continually told how she is to behave and why she is different to a boy. This persists throughout her education, throughout her personal life, throughout her work life - the difference in treatment branching further than language, reaching into the physical. As a result, she is limited – unable to grow in ways disallowed by social paradigms. Of course, these gender politics affect boys too – but in a drastically different fashion. The Heidi Chronicles follows one woman’s journey as she grasps for fulfilment from university age, in every facet of her life, and chronicles her growth as she ages, traversing the 60s, 70s and 80s. If I’m making it sound lame, I promise, it isn’t.
Alice Livingstone’s direction unites a range of polychromatic characters to create a holistic work that is every bit hilarious as it is poignant. The eponymous character, Heidi, is played delightfully by Lauren Dillon – a strong protagonist that allows audiences to see the distinct shifts in Heidi’s understanding of the world, and of herself. It’s a treat to see her engage in some weird and wonderful relationships, opening a window to some of the key people who helped to shape her. Matthew Charleston plays Scoop Rosenbaum, Heidi’s love interest, with boundless charisma and irresistible charm. A personal highlight is Sarah Aubrey’s performance as Fran, the feminist-lesbian-women’s group protester – she creates a dazzling characterisation that had me, and countless others in the audience in stitches. Each cast member is suited wonderfully to their role, forming an excellent ensemble of performers.
Setting the scene for moving between a multitude of settings at rapid succession is difficult, and David Marshall-Martin’s simple set design is a fine response. New Theatre has been reoriented for this show so that the stage is level with the front row of the audience, with audience filling seats on both sides of the stage. A relatively blank slate is framed by two white walls on either end, housing projected images pertaining to each scene. A simple image was enough to instantly transport audiences to a specific setting. This was complemented splendidly by Famke Visser’s costume design, which often heightened some of the gloriously outlandish characterisations. Notably, the music that formed the soundtrack for the play, with sound design by Michael Huxley, created an upbeat atmosphere that had audience members restraining themselves from bopping along in their seats. All of the classics were there, and in a lot of ways, music can be most powerful at taking you back in time.
Livingstone, fills her Director’s Notes in the program with a pointed quote from Joyce Stevens in 1975 and one simple statement. I can’t echo it enough. I have included it here (I do hope Livingstone doesn’t mind) as I feel like it sums up the dire dichotomies and double standards faced by women, far better than I can:
“Because women's work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we're the first to get the sack and what we look like is more important than what we do and if we get raped it's our fault and if we get bashed we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we're nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we're nymphos and if we don't we're frigid and if we love women it's because we can't get a 'real' man and if we ask our doctor too many questions we're neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect community care for children we're selfish and if we stand up for our rights we're aggressive and 'unfeminine' and if we don't we're typical weak females and if we want to get married we're out to trap a man and if we don't we're unnatural and because we still can't get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can't cope or don't want a pregnancy we're made to feel guilty about abortion and…for lots and lots of other reasons we are part of the women's liberation movement.” (Joyce Stevens, Women’s Liberation Broadsheet, International Women’s Day, 1975)
2016. Still so much to do. – Alice Livingstone.