Esther (Janet Anderson) is lacking definition. She is asking the people in her life to describe her in a single word or phrase. The word she uses for herself is “collapsible”, like one of those chairs. Stable one moment and folded over the next. She has broken up with her girlfriend and lost her job, and the whole world seems to be slipping away from her.
Margaret Perry’s outstanding one-ish person play is getting its Australian premiere in a brilliantly inventive production from co-directors Zoë Hollyoak and Morgan Moroney. The black box space of the Old Fitz hasn’t felt larger or more better utilized in a while, as a blend of projections, live camera work, puppetry, and fantastic stage design take you into Esther’s life and mind.
Anderson’s Esther (or Essie as she is known), is heightened and entertaining without losing the heart or emotion of this woman’s spiral into dissociation. Unemployed and drowning in social media videos (she’s obsessed with an online video of a 60s housewife on LSD), her screen-life is a poisonous substitute for a real life. Commanding the stage for the 70-minute running time, Anderson is magnetic. Effortlessly playing multiple roles—including Esther’s sister, her sister’s boyfriend, her father, and most hilariously the HR team of various companies—Anderson delivers comedic hits that are firmly rooted in character, not just punchlines.
I refereed to the show a “one-ish” person play for a few reasons. Firstly, there is a constant camera crew of two who are as integral to the performance as any co-stars, and secondly, in a pivotal moment another actor briefly takes to the stage; wonderfully underscoring Essie’s lack of human connection.
As much as Anderson rules the stage, the production is built upon excellent set and costume work by Hayden Relf, some expressive lighting designed by Morgan Moroney, and immersive sound and music by Daniel Herten, in addition to impressive video design by Moroney and Herten together. Together, this team has created a world that brings Essie’s psyche to life in endlessly intriguing ways.
Thankfully, Essie’s descent into nihilism isn’t endless. Her judgmental inner monologue gives way to change and potentially, hope. This isn’t a trauma-fest, it’s a journey through a very modern, media-driven angst and pain, to something close to healing.
By Chad Armstrong
Collapsible runs April 1st, 2023 at the Old Fitz Theatre, Sydney. Click here for tickets and more information.