Misery Loves Company

By Isabella Reid. Legit Theatre Company. Director: Mathew Lee. KXT on Broadway. 3 -18 May, 2024.

12th May, 2024

Photo : Clare Hawley

Irish comedy seems to appeal innately to the Australian sense of humour. Perhaps because so many of us have Irish forbears. Perhaps because our land too suffered at the hands of British colonists. Whatever, we both love a mixture of pathos and bathos, comic repartee and bold characters, all of which amazing young playwright Isabella Reid has managed to capture in this very cleverly crafted play.

Written for her HSC Drama Individual Project, Reid’s play was showcased in February 2022 as an exemplar of HSC works. Mathew Lee realised its potential, not just as a comedy, but as a play that “reminded me how precious my connections are with those close to me and how important it is to not take life too seriously”. He has taken Reid’s play about “the place I love most in the world”, and, with ten multi-talented performers, shared Reid’s premise that “being miserable in company is a good thing”!

Photo : Clare Hawley

The play is about family. Sure, they come together for a wake, and it is Ireland, but it could be any family sharing memories of a lost loved one and at the same time digging up past grievances and rivalries … except there wouldn’t be Irish music, or “faerie” spirits, or the spectre of the Troubles, or the dictums of the catholic church. All of which Reid has managed to introduce into her play.

Her characters are drawn with a fast, sharp pen. The cast introduce them just as sharply, making them lovably identifiable, their interactions cleverly blocked on a set that allows room for tension to build, and space to watch and wait!

Ten actors play the family, undertakers assistants, the local priest and a minstrel who assemble in the living room of the diseased where her daughter Jackie (Annie Stafford) is deciding which of her mother’s extensive collection of brooches should adorn the corpse. Her cousins Cecilia (Lib Campbell) and Niamh (Rachel Seeto) revive their on-going rivalry and jealousy, while Cecilia’s younger brother, Ernie (Clay Crighton) wanders about, childishly playful and curious.

Niamh’s single-parent mother Dolores (Linda Nicholls-Gidley) tries desperately to assert the dignity of seniority, whilst still bemoaning her single state and her attraction to the local priest, Father John (Michael Yore).

Photo : Clare Hawley

Paul Grabovac is Henry, moved to ‘visions’ by the gravity of the occasion and a wooden box he has taken from a taxi driver! Teal Howie is Jasper, a nineteen-year-old care worker and Ronald Reagan impersonator who looks after their grandfather, Pa George (Mark Langham) who suffers from dementia and spends his days drawing the trees he nurtured as a forrester.

Lincoln Elliott is Gus, the minstrel who entertains the audience as they settle in the intimate space that is KXT’s stage, and spurs the family to song and laughter as they share stories, petty conflicts, and songs.

Lee uses the lilt and swing of Irish folk music to set the pace for the majority of Reid’s play – but there are more poignant moments of stillness, where the gentle notes of The Belfast Mill “weave and spin” the family into memories of the past – and the beautiful words and music of The Parting Glass remind them of why they are gathered and the love that binds them.

It’s not easy to master an Irish accent! For a start, there are so many of them! There is no

“Received Pronunciation” to use as a guide and this busy cast have worked hard and should be congratulated rather than criticised for the effort they have made whilst still following Lee’s fast, complex direction.

Congratulations too to designer Ruby Jenkins who has created a cosy living room complete with piano and a wooden casket! It’s comfortable, lived-in and the furniture allows for different conversations as well as some rollicking interchanges.

It’s unfair to describe specific performances.in a play such as this. Every character is clearly defined; every actor is in every moment whether telling a funny story, bickering spitefully, carefully setting out vigil candles, playing an instrument, or tenderly watching over Pa George.

With Isabella Reid’s insightful script, and under Mathew Lee’s impassioned direction, they have established a close-knit ensemble and a caring, fun-loving Irish family, so real that the production was booked out from the first few days of the run!

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine