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REVIEW: My Dearworthy Darling by Alison Croggon & The Rabble

Jennifer Vuletic in My Dearworthy Darling
Photo: David Paterson

A woman lies on a rock, writhing. She is in a state of ecstasy; part bliss and part religious fervour. She is listening and waiting for God. A man enters. He berates the woman for losing something of his. The tableau has turned from the epic to the domestic, a space that The Rabble have played with before, particularly in Joan, their deeply affecting exploration of Joan d’Arc and her lack of voice.

My Dearworthy Darling is a collaboration between The Rabble (Emma Valente, Kate Davis) and writer Alison Croggon, poet, novelist, librettist, critic and author of other texts for theatre. And it feels like the perfect fit.

The Rabble’s work is often inspired by well-known texts, though what they produce may simply echo, rhyme with or retaliate against stories we have heard or told ourselves. Frankenstein. Story of O. Orlando. Cain and Abel. All these works were as much about our histories with these texts as about the stories themselves.

Their work is created in collaboration with actors, driven by Emma and Kate, who co-direct and design beautiful works of art. In previous shows, if I’ve felt lost without a narrative, I’ve admired their shows visually or structurally. And I’ve always been struck viscerally; the lighting, the sound design and the physicality gets me in the guts every time.

Alison’s text suggests a story of a woman who is being gaslighted by her husband and her sister. The woman starts to lose her sense of self, just at the age where society no longer sees her or hears her.

“I’ve lost the words
I don’t know if I ever had the words”

Later, though, after suffering more torment at the hands and words of her family, the woman starts to hear voices; history is bleeding into the present and the woman is starting to see her situation in the context of women who have come before.

If The Rabble part of the collaboration feels like Joan, Alison Croggon’s text reminds me so much of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls. The woman is channeling Margery Kempe, a medieval mystic from the 14th Century. This evolution in the play evokes, for me, the interplay between historical figures and the “present day” characters in Thatcher’s Britain as part of Churchill’s seminal work. (1)

The woman first sees robed monks through a sheer curtain made of glomesh. Then she hears them, chanting in Middle English. And she starts to grapple with history and voicelessness.

“Her deepest silence is her sublime song.”

Jennifer Vuletic is striking as the woman, a galvanic performance throughout the show. Vuletic shows a vulnerability in the moments where she struggles with her husband and sister, and is utterly mesmerising as the woman starts to put herself together and find her place in history.

The Rabble’s use of lighting is always painterly, creating indelible images that are caught in the mind and long-stored in the memory. Their soundscape here is unsettling and captivating all at once. Voices are caught in echo. The noise of a vacuum cleaner reverberates throughout the space and even after it’s powered off, a hum persists. Later, as the voices of the monks turn into chanting and then song, the aural sensation is one of comfort and ease; the audience is enveloped in music and light, as the woman edges closer to epiphany.

There is grief and anger in My Dearworthy Darling and there’s also strength and knowledge and a hand held out toward the sublime. This is a mature, substantial and challenging work by theatremakers at the top of their craft. A collaboration for the ages.



Jennifer Vuletic and students from Monash Academy of Performing Arts
in My Dearworthy Darling
Footnote:

(1) On her blog “Theatre Notes” in 2012, Alison wrote a review of Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Top Girls and said this:
I was completely unprepared for the emotional impact of watching Jenny Kemp's brilliant production of Top Girls. It was as if an abscess of grief and anger were lanced deep inside me: all the things I already know, that are reconfirmed in the media every day, in casual conversation and trivial encounters, in a lifetime's experience of being a woman, were given form and focus and represented anew.
I have thought about this review a lot since reading it; when thinking about Churchill’s play, on seeing other productions of it and in the context of discussing the importance of representation on stage. I thought about it again on watching My Dearworthy Darling.

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