Daily BulletinHoliday Centre

The Conversation

  • Written by Sarah Balkin, Lecturer, English and Theatre Studies, University of Melbourne

Review: My Dearworthy Darling, Malthouse

My Dearworthy Darling is a collaboration between playwright, fantasy novelist, poet, and theatre critic Alison Croggon and feminist theatre company The Rabble (Kate Davis and Emma Valente).

In her criticism, Croggon champions good writing for the stage, rejecting the idea that the literary and the theatrical are opposing concepts. In their dramaturgy, The Rabble reject the male-dominated tradition of play scripts, instead pursuing experimental, design-led re-imaginings of iconic stories from the Western canon.

Their philosophies met and sometimes clashed in My Dearworthy Darling, which was inspired by the autobiography of an illiterate woman, the medieval mystic Margery Kempe. It attempted to help us hear women’s voices by making them strange, asking us to listen across time and idiom.

The story happens across two times and places, contemporary Australia and medieval England. In Australia there are three nameless characters, a woman (Jennifer Vuletic), her insurance agent husband (Ben Grant), and her sister (Natalie Gamsu). The woman is possibly having a breakdown but definitely being gaslit by her husband and sister, who tell her at every opportunity that there is something wrong with her mind, memory, or behaviour.

Read more: Explainer: what does 'gaslighting' mean?

The woman has visions that connect her to a medieval mystic, also played by Vuletic, whose physicality and resonant voice are compelling. A chorus in monastic robes (played by Monash University performance students) supports and listens to her.

Contemporary and medieval women's voices collide in My Dearworthy Darling Jennifer Vuletic in My Dearworthy Darling. David Paterson

Croggan’s script and Valente’s sound design encourage us to listen, too. The three main actors were miked in a way that drew attention to the amplification of their voices, rendering them slightly alien in their audibility.

The sounds of contemporary Australia were the drone of a vacuum cleaner, the hum of an electric toothbrush, the crunch of ice cubes in a plastic cup, and the ringing of mobile phones. The sounds of medieval England were more human and less prosaic —speaking, chanting, and singing.

But one time also seemed to bleed through to the other: a vacuum switches itself on with mundane supernaturalism; a mobile phone rings in medieval England. At one point the woman places a drinking glass on the ground and then her ear to the glass, as though trying to hear the other time.

Croggan’s program note suggests the three Australian characters are “pressured and broken by the dehumanisations of modern capitalism” and “don’t know how to communicate and so hurt each other.”

These themes were perceptible in the play, but I found the husband and sister so unpleasant there seemed no reason for the woman to attempt communication with these characters, or to remain in their prosaic world. They repeatedly tried to convince the woman that she was crazy by lying to and about her, including a scene in which the husband unconvincingly tells an emergency operator that his unconscious wife has a knife and is trying to kill him. I preferred the appliances to these characters, though Grant and Gamsu are skilled actors.

In Australia, the woman repeatedly says that she doesn’t have the words to express what she is experiencing. Nor are the husband and sister inclined to listen. In medieval England, on the other hand, the woman joins the chorus in speaking words from The Book of Margery Kempe. In this way she finds a voice and the chorus become her onstage auditors and supporting singers.

The Book of Margery Kempe is often called the earliest autobiography in English. Kempe could not write and so dictated her visions and feelings to male scribes who wrote them down in the third person. Although Kempe was more than once accused of being a heretic during her lifetime, she is now celebrated as a woman who claimed a public voice to express her emotional, sexual, and religious experience.

Contemporary and medieval women's voices collide in My Dearworthy Darling Text from Kempe’s book appears throughout My Dearworthy Darling as electronic surtitles and spoken or sung dialogue. The actors’ facility with the Middle English was impressive and beautiful. Because the Middle English overlaps with but is different from our own idiom, the audience must listen carefully, or relinquish conventional ideas about meaning and communication in favour of the sounds and aesthetics of Kempe’s words. That these words are a third-person, dictated, 14th-century memoir should caution us against simplistic morals about restoring and listening to women’s voices — a problem The Rabble also grappled with in their 2017 show about another illiterate medieval heroine, Joan. My Dearworthy Darling’s use of electronic surtitles, time travel, and Middle English show how the mediations that stand between us and Kempe’s voice are also what allow us to hear it. Going back in time, shifting place and idiom, the woman finds she has both words and listeners. Are the words her own? Croggan’s citations of Kempe and the play’s shift to chanting and choral song suggest this is the wrong question. If we want to give women words and hear their voices, the play implies, we must also disrupt and complicate the conventions of authorship and public speech that write them out of history. We must see how mediation, estrangement, and ventriloquism facilitate as well as thwart expression. My Dearworthy Darling is at The Malthouse until August 18.

Authors: Sarah Balkin, Lecturer, English and Theatre Studies, University of Melbourne

Read more http://theconversation.com/contemporary-and-medieval-womens-voices-collide-in-my-dearworthy-darling-120590


The Conversation

Politics

Second Draft - Protecting religious freedom

PROTECTING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REMAINS HIGH PRIORITY FOR GOVERNMENT   Our Government is committed to protecting every Australian from discrimination.   Today, we have released a second exposure ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Keeping Australians safe at airports

The Morrison Government is increasing counter-terrorism measures across nine airports by boosting the Australian Federal Police’s capability to disrupt and deter high-risk-incidents.   Prime Min...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison on Medivac

PRIME MINISTER: The Australian public are in no doubt about our Government’s commitment to strong borders. Our Government has always been consistent. The Liberal and National parties have always b...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Working at Heights: Why the Risks of Occupational Accidents Still Fall on Builders

In most cities and towns, the construction industry is booming, and all you have to do is look around you to figure out why. In addition to new homes going up all around you, businesses are needed a...

Alertforce - avatar Alertforce

Media and Capital Partners spins out new agency arm Mojo Media

Media and Capital Partners, one of Australia’s leading investor relations and media relations consultancies, has spun out a new, fully integrated consumer, finance and technology PR agency called ...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

How to make your small business survive and thrive in 2020

There’s a global downturn and Australian bricks and mortar retail is in a slump. 2020 is going to be a rough year. Everyone knows that, but a lot don’t know what to do about it. Australia still h...

Dorry Kordahi - avatar Dorry Kordahi

Travel

To sell travel packages partner with Holiday Centre - Advertisement

If you are a travel or accommodation provider allow the travel professionals at HolidayCentre.com market your products.. With a business name like Holiday Centre, you can be sure that they will delive...

Holiday Centre - avatar Holiday Centre

6 travel tips you need to know before visiting Melbourne

People have always held Melbourne in high regard with it's numerous coffee stops, it's glorious art galleries, the food scene that can floor any curious palate. There's a unique multiculturalism i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Hertz DriveU

Hertz and Air France launch Hertz DriveU, a new high-quality, hassle-free airport transfer service Hertz DriveU “When you don’t want to drive!” The service is available at more than 300 airports...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

ShowPo