A thought provoking theatre journey

— REVIEW of ‘Sleepyhead’ | Timeout

Sleepyhead | Review

Daniel Nicholls | Timeout
14 May, 2011

✭✭✭ | Three Stars

MKA Theatre kicks off Season One of its Theatre of New Writing program with director Yvonne Virsik’s impressive and grim gothic horror tale, Sleepyhead. Nathanieal Moncrieff’s script weaves the story both backwards and forwards in time, slowly filling in the details of the horrific events that lead up to the situation the characters now find themselves in: a father and his two daughters cooped up together in an isolated, dilapidated shack.

The story really revolves around Genevieve, remarkably brought to life by Emily Wheaton, who is extremely well cast as a crippled young girl. Her sad, tiny world is constructed for the audience, confined to the three walls of her home and the three people in her life: her perpetually drunk father (played by Daniel Frederiksen); her older self-absorbed sister Eleanor (Kiloran Hiscock); and the ghost of her mother, who only she can see. Kaitlyn Clare takes on this role and while her character has no dialogue, she wears the most heartbreaking expression you are likely to see on stage for some time.

There’s an odd subplot for Eleanor involving an unseen caller known as ‘Phone Man’ and a mysterious, blood-soaked visitor in the night, but this never really resolves itself and it’s not entirely clear what the point of it is. The focus remains tightly on Genevieve and her ever-shrinking world, tightening down to her until it is almost a single point. The script really keys into the oft-unspoken thoughts that pass between sisters and the actors play to this by switching between a very naturalistic speaking style to a very theatrical style.

The superb acting is aided by an equally brilliant set design, the entire room at MKA’s new location has been cleverly modelled to become the interior of the decrepit cottage- it’s so genuine the set is pleasantly redolent with the smell of freshly cut pine.

A great deal of thought and detail has also gone into David Samuel’s lighting design, with key scene changes punctuated by sequences illuminated by a single lamp, a tiny doll’s house, a solitary candle or even just a burst of flame. As the lighting indicates, this is a very dark world underconstruction and there is little joy to be found in Genevieve’s story. But Sleepyhead is an evocative, thoughtful and provoking journey, well worth taking if you are a fan of good theatre.

“A thought provoking theatre journey”