PERSONA – Review

By Caitlin Scarr (2013)

There was quite a bit of excitement when it was announced that the 2012 production of Persona was coming to Belvoir this year. Persona was a hit in Melbourne, and the Belvoir season all but sold out months ago.

Director Adena Jacobs has created an excellent piece of theatre that not only pays homage to Ingmar Bergman’s film but transforms the story to one that is distinctly theatrical. It works remarkably well on stage.

Persona examines the psychology of two women caught in a mutually destructive relationship. Elizabeth (Meredith Penman) is an actress who, despite no obvious illness or injury, has fallen silent and refuses to speak. Alma (Karen Sibbing) is the nurse tasked with overseeing Elizabeth’s recovery. Set in an isolated beach house, the two women feed off one another’s insecurities, projecting their ideals, judgements and self-loathing upon one another. It is a psychological thriller and a fascinating exploration of self-identity.

One of the truly remarkable aspects of this production is the sound design. Russell Goldsmith has created a soundscape that is vivid, accurate and menacing, and yet sits so perfectly in the background of the action that you are barely aware of it. The lighting design by Danny Pettingill has a similar affect, with one particularly memorable scene in which a character begins to break down.

These excellently-crafted elements support a wonderful cast. Meredith Penman and Karen Sibbing are powerhouses. Penman, with virtually no lines, commands the space and creates a defined, broken, torn woman, while Sibbing is utterly believable as Alma, a nurse struggling to find a connection with anyone who will listen. The two perform beautifully together, and in the (many) moments of nudity, their performances are so commanding that you barely notice the nudity. Daniel Schlusser is also very convincing, and very commanding, in his brief scene.

The set, comprising of open, transformative space and understated, simple features, reflects the simplicity of the production. It evolves from place of healing to one of danger, without distracting from the performances.

Persona is the type of play that you may not fully understand, but it doesn’t matter – it’s beautiful, commanding and will leave you with an acute awareness of human frailty.

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