Monument – Theatre Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Having already had an exceptionally successful season in 2023, Emily Sheehan’s ‘Monument’ has returned to St Kilda’s Red Stitch Theatre for a 2024 season. In the safe hands of Director Ella Caldwell, Sheehan’s script puts the theatrics of politics on the literal stage and gives us the insight to a politician the public would find refreshing to see.

Monument is 90 minutes real-time set within the confines of the youngest woman to be elected as Prime Minster, in Edith Aldridge’s (Sarah Sutherland) presidential suite. On the day of her swearing in ceremony, the biggest day of Edith’s life, she meets Rosie (Julia Hanna) a twenty-two year old makeup artist from David Jones. Edith’s team of advisors and her husband are all grounded in Melbourne, but Rosie is there. She’s not concerned with the world of politics, rather her mountain of Afterpay loans is on her mind. But she wants to help Edith, and she’s honest about it from the minute she walks through the door.

The chemistry that Sutherland and Hanna have, is what can make or break a production like Monument. Sheenan’s dialogue is witty, the subject unique, and the characters are textbook definitions of juxtapositions in every way. If there were any other actors in these roles working opposite each other, I truly believe the beautiful heart of the play wouldn’t have beat as strong.

Edith initially treats Rosie with little thought, only concerned with how ‘glam’ she can make her look, only wanting to look like the cover of a magazine. Rosie insists the ‘no make-up, make-up look’ will look more relaxed, like she didn’t try as hard, and Edith rudely shuts her down. Earlier in the play, Edith’s snapping at Rosie’s heart on her sleeve nature continues to drive a wedge between them. Unperturbed, Rosie tries a different approach, treating Edith like any other client.

Whether it’s Rosie’s determination or the culmination of Edith’s life stresses, Rosie becomes Edith’s confidant, pulling back the curtain of what sacrifices she’s had to make to reach where she is. As the two begin to open up to each other, Sheehan’s writing has the characters’ class discrepancies cause enough friction, that mild conflict occurs. The resolution is found when they find common ground. I was amazed by how naturally Sheehan writing made their finding of common ground, given the women’s social economic standings. A divide that Sheehan understands can be hard to bridge.

Both performers are stellar, the cast have returned for a reason and I can’t think of anyone else in these roles. The age gap between the characters means there’s opportunity for audience members of all ages to find kinship with these characters. I loved Sutherland’s performance and even with Edith’s worse moments, when I thought I couldn’t grow to like her character, the emotional peak was performed so brilliantly. Sutherland truly turned me around.

Rosie was a character I knew, she reminded me of a friend, so when her character’s emotional peak happened, it was like I was watching my friend go through it on stage, with everyone watching. This might have been why Hanna was my personal favourite, she wasn’t given the type of emotional monologues that Sutherland had, however she used every moment she had to make the audience laugh, and when Rosie had her moment, I hope audience felt it because I sure did.

Stories of two different people from different worlds, coming together and finding common ground isn’t a new idea but it very rarely works. This might be the first time I’ve seen it successfully done. Monument is also not the first time I’ve seen a play rely on the performances of two actors, but these two had theirs in real time; Sutherland actually had her makeup done by Hanna on stage!

What Monument succeeds with is the writing and portrayal of realistic female characters: they don’t have to be victims and they aren’t at war with each other. Monument received a second season it so rightfully deserved. As poignant now as it was in 2023, Monument will be something that will continue to remain as relevant as it is powerful.

Monument played in Melbourne at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre from the 20th of February to March 10th.
The final performance was attended for the purpose of this review.
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Photography by Jodie Hutchinson.

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