|Michelle Myers in And Then She Became A Chair|
A woman emerges from the darkness, head covered, moving slowly, weighted bags are attached to her dress and drag along the ground behind her. She is in a waiting room. A doctor’s office. A hospice. Inside a commercial begging her to start a new life in Queensland. This is purgatory.
Michelle Myer’s one-woman performance, And Then She Became A Chair, is an unsettling, confronting and poetic study in grief. We watch as a woman deals with the inevitable death of her mother, remembering absurd moments of her life, of their lives, in the years, weeks and days leading up to…
C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, a reflection on the passing of his wife, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” And it’s this observation that Michelle explores in this work – grief being the fear of loss, the fear of the unknown and the fear of what comes next.
It’s interesting that the first work of theatre I have seen this year is focused so much on grief, given the traumatic events of 2020 – on a global stage, in personal spaces and in the long pause of theatres around the world. What would things look like after we emerged from lockdown?
Theatre Works itself has transformed its space into something innately theatrical in itself, a response to its time: the audience is sitting in COVID-safe, Perspex boxes. It’s not unlike living in an Ivo Van Hove production or some Australian director’s simulacrum. It’s comforting and unsettling in itself. And not all the sightlines are clear.
I always enjoy theatre-in-the-round at any time and this production feels most suited to it: the woman, is it Michelle or a fiction or a combination of both, has nowhere to hide. But in dealing with the memories and the nightmares and the feelings that are pressing up against her, she chooses to lay her grief bare. We watch her change clothes, change personas, cook, dance, make farting noises in her armpit, get stuck in a repetitive lure to a greater life in the sunshine, all while dealing with her dying mother and…
Jahman Devine’s lighting design keeps the audience on edge, often plunging us into absolute darkness, while Andrew Starks’ sound design cuts from comforting to upsetting. The audience is floating through the past and present and reflections of a woman whose grief is almost total, but not quite. For there is beauty to be found in the most painful of moments.
And Then She Became A Chair is absurd and ridiculous, piercing and numbing. And if grief is like fear, you may also be able to overcome it.