11/08/2014

Another cup of tea: SUDS’ The Bitterness of Pomegranates

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen a number of productions set largely in kitchens or houses, and have read numerous books in which important conversations are had in kitchens, and many conversations with my friends have been shared in their kitchens. You could dismiss it as “everything including the kitchen sink” but that’s not it; it’s not the sink that is crucial, nor the kitchen itself if we’re being honest, but rather the rawness and unguarded nature of the conversation which happens when you’re in a place you feel safe in. Helen Garner knows this, which is why in all her books you’ll find kitchens as little theatres of life, crucibles of thought and action, meeting places, familial communal spaces; ordinary theatres of mundanity where extraordinary things happen. And so it is with SUDSThe Bitterness of Pomegranates.
Written and directed by Julia Clark, ‘Pomegranates’ is a (new) play set in a small (unnamed and unlocated) Australian town, and follows a family as one sister befriends the town odd-bod (or ‘lunatic’ as we are told on the production’s website, but I don’t like the term). It’s a play about the small-town rumour-mill, about babbling gossips and secrets that never remain so, how privacy is everyone’s business, and even though it’s a short play – no longer than fifty minutes – there is something in it which sticks to you.

Set in a kitchen, there is the pantry, a working fridge, cupboards, a stove oven, a kettle that is boiled in perpetuity, and a toaster which is perhaps used. This is naturalism pushed through the boundary of realism until real-life begins to show through the cracks between the flats which form the back of the set, but that is not to denigrate the play or the production. Maddie Houlbrook-Walk’s lighting is warm and crisp, while Clemmie Williams’ music is playful and spirited, and keeps the production bubbling along, holds everything together.
As a production, it is honest and well-meaning, and has humour, charm, and bucket-loads of heart, and it is very hard not to like Clark’s efforts. As a narrative, it feels as though it’s only half there; or rather, it seems like only half a story – there are relationships that are hinted at, people’s lives we hear about and want to find out more about. In a play like ‘Pomegranates,’ the story lies not so much in what happens but in the relationships between people, between characters, between them and the audience. We feel as though we could know these characters, if only we had a little bit more to go on. I wanted to know more about the grandmother, about Dorothy and Maggie as sisters, what Dorothy’s illness was, about Richard and Maggie, about Richard’s new job; about Emily the neighbour; about Tom the odd-bod who Dorothy is friends with… All these relationships are hinted at but remain largely unexplored, though there is certainly room to expand ‘Pomegranates’ and create a rather beautiful little play; the seeds are already there, the plant just needs to grow a little bit more.
Clark’s play feels like a short story by Helen Garner, or something from Gretchen Schirm’s collection of stories, and there’s nothing to hurt it in these comparisons. While I don’t normally review school or university productions (for various reasons), in The Bitterness of Pomegranates we get a glimpse of a family plagued by gossip and trying to maintain themselves in the face of it all. Instead of bitterness, there is hope, light, and the generosity of humankind.



Theatre playlist: 47. Life Drawings, Mark West and Derek Yau

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