|Brigid Gallacher, Simon Maiden, Emily Goddard in Jane Bodie's Lamb|
“You left a trail of broken bread
Across the old battle ground
Behind the veil of the living and the dead
You wrote your secrets down.”
There’s a song at the heart of Jane Bodie’s new play, Lamb. It’s the song of family history. A song full of heart. Of regret.
At times the music is a celebration of life. At times, it’s a meditation on loss. Mostly, it’s both. As great country songs can be or must be.
Farmland. Rural Australia. The wooden floorboards and the dust and the fridge full of beers.
Annie (Brigid Gallacher) has returned to her home town after the death of her mother. Sudden for her, but a drawn-out process for her brother Patrick (Simon Maiden) and their sister Kathleen (Emily Goddard).
Patrick sings a song in remembrance of his late mother, even though Annie is the singer of the family – she went to the big city to pursue her dreams. The reunion of the siblings is delicate, fraught.
Annie refuses to feel guilty for following her passion, but Patrick resents her for leaving him to look after their mother, whose last years were marred by dementia. Kathleen is also sick, mentally impaired somehow, a child in a woman’s body. It’s tough on a farm in any case. For Patrick, it’s been a living nightmare; maybe singing his father’s songs has got him through it.
Lamb is advertised as A New Play with Songs. It’s not a musical, let’s be clear. The songs are songs the characters have written; songs they sing as songs. With music and lyrics by Aussie rock legend Mark Seymour, combined with the moving work of playwright Jane Bodie, this is a stellar example of the “play with songs” genre.
The play starts with the funeral and inches back in time, in memory and then lurches back into another generation at the start of Act Two. Brigid and Patrick do double duty as parents Mary and Frank, whose early relationship is troubled by the fact that Mary really wants to leave town to go protest in the big smoke.
Although the first half of this play is captivating, it feels mannered in a way the second half does not. Director Julian Meyrick helps the actors find the hidden depths to their characters in Act Two and the layers of regret built into the family’s foundations are exposed. The children don’t really understand what their parents went through before they were born; and the siblings are at a loss to reconcile what they do know after Mary’s funeral.
Emily Goddard is captivating, as always, even if the conception of Kathleen feels a little bit like a cliché – the mentally-ill sister who is really wiser than her impairment suggests. Brigid Gallacher’s Annie is the archetypical prodigal daughter, but once we get to mother Mary, we see echoes of each in both; a subtle and striking performance. Simon Maiden gives us a laconic Frank and a taciturn Patrick, showing most passion through the song a father wrote and passed on to his son.
Lamb is an intimate tale that’s spread across years. It’s a story of a family history that is imperfectly passed along, and a song that is sung and remembered and a shared passion that binds them all together even as they slowly drift apart.
Lamb is on at Red Stitch until December 16th. A strong final show for 2018, just before their 2019 season is launched next week.