Get ready for the toxic roller coaster ride of your life! Feather in the Web is a thematically dark but tonally vibrant and energetic romp through the life of a very disturbed young woman. Before the first act is over your protagonist will make her therapist cry, assault her mother and take advantage of a random beauty therapist. In many stage productions, any of these events would mark the inciting incident and serve as a catalyst from which the story unfolds. In Red Stitch’s production of Feather in the Web however, the combination of all three scenes merely sets up the main character’s fraught relationship with the world and her place within it.
Michelle Brazier gives a compelling performance as Kimberly, a woman held hostage by her impulses but free from any sense of commitment to her fellow human beings. At one point she tells another character that she is like a cat.
“I take everything as a compliment, and I can never a regret a thing.”
When Kimberly stumbles into a party late one night, she falls head over heels in love with Miles (George Lingard). Unfortunately for Kimberly, the party she’s crashed happens to be Mile’s engagement party. As the night winds down, Mile’s mother, Barb, (Belinda McClory) recognises the look in Kimberly’s eye, and encourages her to “go and get him. Of course, she says this without pausing to clarify who the object of Kimberly’s affections is.
From this point, Nick Coyle’s script picks apart the cloth from which romantic comedies are cut, by placing Kimberly at the centre of some very familiar scenes. A lot has already been written about the behaviour of heroines in romantic comedies. Brazier’s performance does a lot to support the thesis that if real life people behaved in the same way as some of our favourite characters, they’d earn a restraining order. Replacing the Katherine Heigl’s charms with Kimberley’s struggles with mental illness throws the whole genre into much needed context.
In spite of the tonal shift in the second act, it’s difficult to pin down a “message” of any sort. Although the plot grapples with some complex ideas, including mental illness and suicide, you’re not likely to walk away feeling enlightened. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, it seems deliberate. At one point, Kimberley predicts that she’ll never see a play that changes her point of view. If this reflects the playwright’s sentiments then who would send him on a quest to change hearts and minds? This is not to say that the work is shallow or uncomplicated – it’s not. In fact, the sequences detailing Kimberly’s inner monologue are both incredibily insightful and inherently disturbing. Because of their near perfect execution, these scenes succeed in fostering a connection between the audience and an otherwise (unapologetically) unsympathetic character.
Above all else, Feather in the Web is a highly entertaining piece, with strong performances all round. Emily Milledge stands out for her portrayal of Lily, Mile’s fiancé. She expertly navigates her character’s arc from cold and uptight to warm and friendly. Over the course of the two hour performance, she becomes perhaps the only character we can truly empathise with.
Patrick Durnan Silva also deserves a mention for his character work in the ensemble. Each time Durnan Silva takes to the stage, he embraces a new character, shedding the skin of the previous one completely. It’s an absolute delight to watch.
Overall, Feather in the Web should prove popular with Midsumma audiences. The combination of cast, tone and outlandish story makes for a delightful night out. It’s well worth the trip down Chapel Street to the Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre.