Of Monopoly and Women – Brave New Word Theatre Company and the greatest love of all. (Theatre Review)
Of Monopoly and Women
Brave New Word Theatre Company
Exchange Hotel July 9 – July 24
Female relationships, particularly sisters, is one of those great literary subjects that rarely sluggish because so many writers have their own unique experience of the dynamic and at the same time, project universals we can all relate to. From the Three Fates of Plato’s republic, through Cinderella, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jane Austen’s Bennett sisters to remarkable relationships such as the Bronte’s, almost every important epoch of artistic development comes up with its essential story of sisters. With Of Monopoly and Women, Pamela Proestos adds her voice to the subject, exploring the relationships of three sisters, Zoe, Kate and Ella and the way personalities are forged within the confines of intense relationships. These three sisters love each other, anyone can tell, and outside of the walls of familial protection, they adore and stand by each other, but behind the iron curtain of their protective relationship, they turn on one another with a viciousness that everyone with a family can recognise, but still causes us to stare with horror at the potential for carnage. It’s a remarkably apt observation by Proestos, who identifies that along with the barbs we sling develops a protective coating, able to deflect in the moment, but may have lasting consequences on the psyche. It’s difficult to know how genuinely affected we are by sibling rivalry – it’s probably a little of “completely” and a little of “not at all” that forge some sort of uneasy alliance within us. But still, as Proestos observes through her characters, it’s often the very place we go to hide and seek protection, that houses our most bitter enemies if only we could get past all that love to see it clearly.
Zoe, the “arty” one in the family, wins a photography competition’s first place prize, which is a trip to Paris. She can take one other person with her, but she lives with her two sisters, Kate, the “pretty” one and Ella the “one with no label.” She gets on well with Ella and fights with Kate, but this is primarily because Ella can be the doormat that runs from conflict while Kate wrestles and brings out the fire in Zoe. High on her own power, Zoe decides on ways the sisters can duke it out over her, finally settling on monopoly as the best decider. This is the great joke of course, because if your family is anything like mine, Monopoly was the cause of enormous sibling arguments, is a game that never ends, and rarely declares an honest winner. Like sisterhood itself, like life itself, Monopoly (or Monotony as we referred to it in our house) is the ultimate metaphor for life’s struggles, its frustrations, its bizarre unfair bestowing of chance, all appropriately dependent on the roll of the dice, and the turn of the friendly card.
Brave New Word Theatre company have come up with a lovely little production, well realised in the small theatre space at the Exchange Hotel in Balmain, a great venue (personal favourite) that is perfect for the intimacy depicted in Of Monopoly and Women. The show takes place inside the hallowed halls of the relationship between the sisters, the one outsider being Tom (Mark Taylor) who struggles to maintain a relationship with one sister against the wishes of the other two. The Exchange Hotel proves to be a snug venue for such an intimate production, with a well designed, busy set by Demitra Sealy that evokes the small-apartment-housing-a-big-conflict feel. Coupled with intimate and detailed lighting by Luke Holmes (a really nice touch is a lit globe of the earth) the set grows out of the confines of its space in the same way the relationships do. Sascha Hall has done an excellent job evoking the feel of family between three quite physically different females, managing her fine cast through the verbal barbs that, while often cringe worthy, never lose sight of the permission siblings have to be cruel in a certain context. The three women often look like kids battling for space in the backseat on a long journey, and this nuance allows for Proestos’ interesting points about the sibling love conceding a certain licence. Does the love give permission for the cruelty, or is cruelty a knee-jerk reaction to an enormous love that can’t be contained?
Ainslie Clouston is Zoe, the perfect self-assured target for her less confident and yet more beautiful and talented sister Kate, performed by Bianca Raess, to do her best to knock her down to size. But Zoe is sure of her talents and skills, and only needs to turn to her sister, Victoria Greiner as Ella, for any reassurance she might need if Kate gets a little too “real”. Ella is constantly seeking her “place” with her sisters, and if it weren’t for her fiance Tom, a man who truly sees her and loves her, harbors an inner fear that she might just disappear into nothing in the face of her older siblings. All four performances are terrific, and handle a fast paced script with great energy and comedic timing.
Of Monopoly and Women is an excellent production, in a great venue, that you might want to take your sister to. The talent and energy in the room will take you by surprise. Grab your tickets here.