Performed at Melbourne’s Theatre Works, ‘The View from Up Here’ is a unique play that is performed in the centre on the audience. With no stage, just dirt, and the remains of a burnt house at the back of the performing area. As you enter, the room is thick with smoke, visibility is limited and the lighting creates the atmosphere of fire perfectly, disturbingly perfectly.
Maggie (Emily Tomlins) is the on stage, covered in soot and sorting through the remains of her home, reduced to nothing but a wall and a claw foot bathtub. She doesn’t say a single word, just in disbelief at what is in front of her. Dragging the bathtub further into the stage, she calls out “girls” and the lights fade to black.
The setting is set up so perfectly, just walking into a smoky room with the yellow lights was haunting and set the scene perfectly. As I sat down, I could barely make out the audience members next to me, it was unsettling, but given the content within the performance, it was perfect.
Written and created by Fiona Spitzkowsky, the story of ‘The View From Up Here’ follows a family that has to come together after fires have destroyed the family home and their mother, Maggie (Emily Tomlins), refuses to leave. Sisters, Eva (Chanella Macri) and Lily (Brigid Gallacher) are distant, their relationship is strained so seeing each other again after a long time in these circumstances, the tension between them is immense. Tomlins plays Maggie so wonderfully, she’s a kind soul but she never seems weak, the love Maggie feels for her daughters seems so real because of Tomlins. Her convincing facial expressions when talking to her daughters during the most emotionally difficult scenes are those that a mother would have.
The two daughters in question are completely different, even the way they are introduced to the audience shows their stark differences. We first meet Lily as she sees the ruin of her family home and she is dressed in all white, not a speck of dirt or ash on her.
In contrast, Eva is covered in dirt wearing boots and work wear. Both actresses portray these characters perfectly, with Macri’s Eva hiding behind her jokes as a form of protection, continuously emphasising the horror that she witnessed with her mother as the fire began. Macri is the standout for me, she gives Eva so much heart so much intensity that it’s hard to not watch her. The character’s pain feels real and the power of Macri’s performance should not be understated. Gallacher’s portrayal of Lily is softer, and some would incorrectly call her weaker. Coming home to face her family and the sister that she doesn’t get along with requires a great amount of inner strength.
There are a lot of dark moments in ‘The View From Up Here’, and some are very confronting. So, John Marc Desengano’s character John, Lily’s friend, is a wonderful ray of light that breaks through the darkness. He’s charismatic and a pure delight. When he is in the middle of a family argument, his awkward demeanour doesn’t overshadow the more intense moments of the production. However, whenever I my eyes laid upon him, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. The chemistry he has when interacting with Macri’s Eva is always wonderful, and the energy exchange that the actor’s share is really special.
There are long monologues throughout ‘The View From Up Here’. Most are heartfelt and meaningful but there are times when they don’t sound realistic. The use of too many metaphors took away from an otherwise powerful performance. These moments quickly pass and don’t hinder the experience, but admittedly the constant use of metaphors does make the show a bit weaker.
Overall, ‘The View From Up Here’ is a thought provoking production that visits themes of life and rebirth taking place after a devastating fire, which I found uplifting, raw, and beautiful.
‘The View From Up Here’ is playing at Theatre Works in St Kilda, Melbourne until the 28th of May.
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Photography by Theresa Harrison.