Held is a finely conceived, beautifully executed new play; a perfect example of the kind of work that audiences should be seeing at the top of the Playhouse, and a memorable piece of art in its own right.
The first full length play by Joe Ward Munrow, an alumni of the theatre’s young writers programme, it is a mature and considered three-hander about the strength of family ties.
Pauline Daniels is Mary, a woman catatonic with dementia; Alan Stocks and Ged McKenna are Simon and David, the two sons barely tolerating each other on their regular visits to see the mother who does not even realise they are there.
Held is, indeed, the sum of its parts, and perfectly so. Thematically and theatrically it is woven together with great care and skill, a gift for an audience to piece together, laden with subtle motifs within its sights, sounds, and even scents.
The smell of Dettol permeates the black box space, the rectangular performance area resembling a hospital corridor. The set is littered with chairs that the actors move as required. Scenes are plunged into darkness with loud crackles of electricity, a dramatic device that shocks the audience out of any passivity. The simple set, which sees large, seaweed style shapes looming out of Mary’s armchair and across the ceiling, is beautiful and disorienting at once.
Ward Munrow’s script explores the brothers’ conflicting opinions on how to handle the situation with their ailing mother, slowly uncovering the moments from the past that might have made things the way they were. There is one memorable scene as Stocks and McKenna pace the performance space, both ranting away to themselves, two monologues expertly timed to be heard at once. There is a lot to take in in just 65 minutes, and director Lorne Campbell keeps everything under an expert control.
It is impossible not to be touched by Pauline Daniels’ performance as Mary, who occasionally snaps out of her vacant stupor to act out flashback scenes of bringing up her boys.
“If you see a dog just chasing its tail over and over, for an hour, it’s funny. After two days, you think you’d better take them to the vets. After three days… you want to put them down,” muses David at one point. The dialogue is contemplative, moving, and human; but arguably not completely maudlin.
Most striking of all was the play’s opening moments – David and Simon beginning sat in front of their mum loudly mouthing their hellos, but moving further away from her, then each other, with each flickering of the light.
Held is on at the Playhouse Studio until December 1.