The Twelfth Dawn – Time, Pain and insomnia from the 505 Theatre founders. (Theatre Review)

One of the most devastating moments in the Iliad is Priam’s distress at the death of his son, Hector.  Between the moment of death and the eventual burial Priam lives in a kind of tormented hell that was so deep and troubled, it aroused the sympathies of the gods. The abuse of Hector’s body was the result of actions of revenge by Achilles, depressed with his own mourning over the death of Patroclus, earlier killed by Hector. It is the mourning of these two men, Achilles and Priam that struck David Malouf as so interesting he was moved to write a book – Ransom – about the grief of the two men. When Priam goes to Achilles to beg for the body of his son so that he can bury it, he goes without all the glory and honor of a king that might protect and provide for him. He goes to Achilles wearing nothing but the desperate sadness of his grief; something he knows Achilles understands.


It was in reading Malouf’s book, that Kerri Glassock, Michael Pigott and Gareth Boylan decided to slice out the experience of grief and its immediate consequences in the Twelfth Dawn that is currently showing at the old 505 Theatre. This is a beautiful work, delicately conceived and very physical in its depiction. Kerri Glassock and Michael Pigott are parents in grief, trapped in that semi-space between the moment of death and the moment of burial. However, the narrative is sublimated to the actual experience, and it is quite a while before the subtle plot allows itself to surface. Until that moment we know something is wrong with this very beautiful couple, but we do not know what.

Grief’s potency lies in its ability to overwhelm.  It has a presence that implies there will never be anything larger than it, and it has a weight that implies nothing can shift it. At the point we meet this married couple, time is not their friend. The clock ticks so slowly it seems to go backwards, as their days and nights are marked only by the suspended moment of not being able to move forward and not being able to move back. The couple are grief, they are no longer themselves, and they physically embody the complexity when all that makes one human has flown out the door and the abyss that takes its place is as big and bigger than everything.


Twelfth Dawn opens with Gareth Boylan moving the pieces of furniture that let us know we are in an apartment, onto the stage.  He is the viewer, and a kind of Greek Chorus, watching and commentating, always the outside view, and in a way every outside view. He brings the objects that mean something into the room with the two people who are already there, because nothing in their world means anything.  As soon as the couch arrives, Pigott sits in it, watching the television, as if it was always there, as if he was always there. His stone cold stare with the desperate sadness somewhere behind it is absolutely chilling, and in its own way mesmerizing. He is in the grief space after the tears and before moving on. He is suspended.


The three writers have decided this place their created characters are trapped in, is a physical one, seeing as all mental faculties seem to abandon at that point. Therefore both HE and SHE suffer from insomnia, and their sleeplessness attacks the mind, while the body just moves around in space and time. In a breathtaking opening sequence, Glassock and Pigott move in a complex ballet around the couch. Each moves to where the other was, and in various stages of comforting the other and shunning the other, the movements fluid and gentle, but disturbingly circular as we come to understand they are repeating their motions and their behaviors over and over again. We literally watch time move for this couple, and at the same time we watch time stand still. The repeated actions get faster and faster as the impression of standing still and not moving becomes deeper and deeper. As the play then progresses there are moments that imply suspension, there are slight interactions with outsiders who cannot use their presence to impact on the world of the grieving couple and there are odd behaviors that are the product of sleep deprivation and the horrible float of a life that is between catastrophic events. In many ways, the play defies gravity, the threesome moving around each other without being able to reach out, the sadness building walls between them that cannot be traversed. At one point SHE asks HE if it will always be like this?  His “no” lacks confidence and hope but at the same time they both understand it is the truth. This understanding is written like hearts graffiti on the wall between them, not understood with the mind.


All of this power is in the writing and the action. The three actors, the heart and soul of 505, wrote the play themselves.  All three give thrilling performances, with Kerri Glassocks heart wrenching monologue at the end being the fulcrum upon which the play balances. She and Michael Pigott are seamless in their dance of grief, perfectly playing off one another.  Boylan is excellent as the ever present gaze, light, obtrusive, inappropriate, pervasive, remote and always correct. His cold observation as it meanders through many different characters including, at times us, the audience, is chilling in its distance and its inability to connect, to understand. There is beauty in this small smart play. A beauty that comes of talent combined with experience, combined with beautifully open hearts.

Underground Sydney theater has been strikingly good of late. This is another contribution to recent boom in powerful theatrical voices in the Sydney arts scene. Try not to miss it if you are in town. You can get your tickets here.