There are approximately 2000 deaths from suicide per year in Australia, and over 15,000 mental health prescriptions are written every day in Victoria alone. Depression is often discussed in terms of the economic cost on society, but in her first foray into writing, Surfacing,Tracey Mathers takes us straight to the heart of the emotional minefield that is the everyday life of those living with a depressive illness.
Surfacing is about a group of characters in their 20s. Aspiring but constantly disappointed actor Natalie (Mathers), her AFL playing bother (Gary J R Richards), his best friend and teammate Steve (Kane Felsinger), and Natalie’s best friend and new mother Kate (Sarah Hamilton) are all living versions of their childhood dream – some more apparently successfully than others. Natalie identifies herself early on as suffering debilitating depression, and it is her cohort’s reactions then subsequent devastating disillusionment in their personal versions of perfection that illustrate the premise of the play: can friends help others when they are feeling exactly the same way?
Do we need to talk, or just need to “toughen up”? Maybe things can best be solved by a nice cup of tea?
Surfacing bravely eschews pat answers to these questions, and contains many scenes confronting in their truth: Natalie’s helpless distress and screaming fit when unable to find “the right” clothes, and Steve’s eviscerating self loathing as he watches TV re-runs of his footy matches are familiar to anyone who has traversed the dark depths of depression. The difficulties of Kate’s first time motherhood and Steve’s gender-stereotypical emotional denial are also portrayed in a compassionate, non-judgemental light.
Surfacing is presented in a number of short scenes, mostly set it Natalie’s lounge room, but with a flashback of the four in a playground, a workout by the boys somewhere outside (we presume), and at Kate’s home. This is where this production primarily falls down – the direction, by Nathan Gilkes, pays little attention to defining change of locality, making the audience spend precious time working out ‘where are we now’? Some simple lighting changes and greater variety in the pitch of the dialogue (unfortunately mostly delivered at breakneck speed, and in a decidedly overly stagey manner for such an intimate space) would do much to allay this problem. In addition, and again to reduce guessing time for the audience, the script could use just a few signposts to clarify the relationships of the four characters and ultimately important facts (like a window) of the layout of Natalie’s home.
It ends suddenly, which is a bit uncomfortable for the audience, but I appreciated this as a courageous statement that difficulties in life don’t usually end tied up neatly with a pink bow. But a cup of tea (and a bickie) will continue to be useful!
Surfacing definitely needs a bit of work to realise its full potential, but is already a thought provoking, well acted and, at times, truly moving play. It continues at Studio 246, Brunswick –comfy couches, tea and bickies and blankets provided – till 9 June.