Review: Zoe – part of the Sydney Fringe festival.

By Erica Brennan

The program notes of Zoe ask ‘how do you mourn someone who never existed? How do you stop’ I was immediately intrigued by the concept and extremely glad I’m so much of a nerd that I read the program notes obsessively before a show.

The story: Emma is going through a divorce and trying to cope with not only the breakdown of the marriage but the loss of her most desired future, a planned child whom they have already named Zoe. Almost by fate Emma meets an elusive and beautiful fire twirler on the beach who introduces herself as Zoe. Emma becomes obsessed with her fantasising that she is Zoe’s mum. Emma’s Mum Donna and her best friend Chris try and support her through her bizarre behaviour before becoming fed up. Emma follows her on face book goes to all her gigs tells people that she has become like a mum to the poor destitute girl. Finally she once again approaches Zoe and the fragile world she has created crashes down. Zoe is baffled by Emma’s familiarity and then demands she stop stalking before storming away. This dilemma of letting go of something that never existed was definitely the thing that carried the play for me. It is strong enquiry to build a play around and I thought the story had all the touch stones to be something really fantastic. I applauded writer/director Jean Gordon for her choice of material.

For a fringe show with all the restrictions created by venue sharing and short runs, it was a seamlessly put together production with some truly inspiring touches. The original Score by Michael Pearce was the right amount of ominous and whimsical. Not too overpowering for a subject that is very difficult to comprehend but transporting you to the driving melancholy that Emma must have been consumed by.

The cast seemed at ease with the writing and seemed very comfortable in this tricky situation. Jen Mealing as Donna, Emma’s mum was one of the stronger performers with other cast members finding moments to really shine. Zoe, played by professional fire twirler Hanna Donnelley, is mesmerising. Never leaving the stage and in an almost zen like fashion twirls glow poi throughout all the scenes. It gives one a beautiful awareness that there are some things that haunt us and may never actually come into being. A lovely metaphor for the subject of Emma’s mourning.

Elements of the script and the staging were a bit hit and miss, and I’d love to see a dramaturge attached to it because I really thought the story and idea were fascinating. At times dialogue was truly striking and other times a bit clunky and lacking subtext. I was also craving a few more adventurous directing decisions, growing fatigued at similar choices made throughout. However this was a very easy production to watch and I very much hope that Gordon keeps writing and creating work. Her interest and care for her subject and characters shines through in the production and I was quite enamoured with the gentle exuberance the cast seemed to emanate. Even though the season is finished keep an eye out for future work.

As a side note this was my first visit to the King Street Theatre since its name change (formerly Newtown Theatre) and new interior. It’s a beautifully welcoming place and it was great to see the foyer filled with happily chatting patrons. If the chance comes up to visit it dear Theatre Goers please do!

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