Ellen has moved out of Melbourne into a new apartment in Sydney: a city that she hates everything about. Complications arise when her father, who has been away for two years, arrives unannounced.
This Year’s Ashes, at Red Stitch, revolves around the relationship between Ellen and her father, with sporadically placed interludes of awkward post-coital conversations with the men she meets at bars. It is the excellence of the performers that stand out in this production, making the otherwise lethargic script an effective piece of theatre.
The design (Kat Chan) takes advantage of the existing architecture of the Red Stitch space. Its minimalistic white walls and Ikea furniture transforms from agonisingly claustrophobic to isolating within a very small space of time and seems to change with the shifts in the protagonist’s moods. This is supported with the emotional journey of the performance being underlined by the sound design (Russell Goldsmith and Daniel Nixon).
Performers Daneil Frederiksen (Adam), Rosie Lockhart (Ellen) and Jeremy Stanford (Ellen’s father) pull off the wordy text extremely well, grappling with a plot that didn’t appear to have any real complication until the second act. In this respect, the first half of the performance felt drawn out and convoluted, while the second act finally reached the core of the story and was more engaging.
Unfortunately, This Year’s Ashes has a plot that’s easily guessed at; for some, the end of the first act (in which everything is given away) was no surprise. Similarly, many could not truly sympathise with the protagonist. Ellen doesn’t appear to recognise the cause of her struggles, so had nothing to overcome, which manifested in a lack of dramatic tension. In this way the piece teetered dangerously towards a man ‘fixes’ emotionally unstable woman trope. A trope that still leaves left a bitter aftertaste.
Overall however, the actors created an engaging work out of a slow script and, coupled with the terrific design elements, it makes for an entertaining night at the theatre.