Broken review (Eternity Playhouse, Sydney)

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Darwin playwright Mary Anne Butler’s Broken has picked up a handful of awards in the last few years, including the $100,000 main prize at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

It’s now receiving its Sydney premiere thanks to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, and its plain to see why it’s won so many awards on the basis of the script itself. It’s an extraordinarily evocative piece of writing, conjuring up the full sensory experience of the Top End of Australia, using words alone. These are words which must have leapt off the page for any judges reading the script.

Ash (Rarriwuy Hick) has just been involved in a horrific car accident in the middle of the outback and she’s badly injured. Thankfully, she’s discovered by Ham (Ivan Donato), who manages to free her from the wreck and calm her down.

It’ll still be two hours until an ambulance arrives to tend to Ash, but Ham is there to keep her talking and ensure her she’s not alone. Somewhere over the course of the night, the two fall in love.

Meanwhile, Ham’s wife Mia (Sarah Enright) is at home, drowning in booze after a painful miscarriage.

Butler mostly tells her story through three richly descriptive, intersecting monologues.

Director Shannon Murphy has found a brilliant physical solution to this stylistically abstract play’s challenges. The stage is set up like a Foley studio, with the actors providing the sounds of the play as they perform.

We hear a woman walking through broken glass as an actor treads in a tray of buttons, and the sound of a campfire crackling as bubble wrap is sporadically popped.

The three actors use microphones for dialogue, which allow them to speak in a more intimate way with the audience. The amplification is still very soft, inviting the audience to lean in.

James Brown’s compositions and sound design sits perfectly alongside the live sounds while Ben Brockman’s lighting gives just a very loose sense of the various settings of the play.

All three actors shine: Rarriwuy Hick is radiant as Ash, bringing both confidence and great comfort to the stage. Ivan Donato gives Ham plenty of warmth and a profound love for Ash, while Sarah Enright’s portrayal of Mia is coloured by an overriding sense that her life is on the cusp of a great change.

Murphy’s production doesn’t seem to follow any rules as to how it will use the various objects on stage for the soundscape — in fact, some objects remain unused — or how the performers will interact with each other. It gives the production an organic sense of motion and growth, although the lack of order in the staging distracted me a little from the play’s narrative.

But that’s an insignificant gripe for what is a very fine production of a very fine play.

Broken is at the Eternity Playhouse until August 28. Photo by Helen White

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