Describing Unsuckle – a performance of acting and dance – is a challenge, much like the ideas it presents to its audience. A lot of the ideas it presents on motherhood; whether one should become a mother with climate change looming, the archetype of the mother in ancient times, questions on non-binary or trans parents, being childfree – are all fascinating and relevant.
The director, Isabella Vadiveloo, clearly put thought in how to get across such weighty concepts with a touch that is uniquely hers. But I sense that these concepts weren’t as teased out as much due to the sheer number of complex topics presented.
Unsuckle follows two people who question concepts of motherhood through dialogue and dance sequences. There is no single plot or story line, rather an amalgamation of various short sections discussing numerous themes. The actors, Harriet Wallace-Mead and Josiah Lulham, do a serviceable job in working with the dialogue while incorporating interpretive physical movements, leaping and clasping with each other, but their physicality lacked polish. The acting, too, while not bad, left something to be desired.
The concepts being stuffed in the stage are complex, and the 70-minute run-time failed to let these ideas breathe properly. I feel if the play had focused on only one or two concepts, it would’ve added space to create a more in-depth performance. As Vadiveloo mentions, she wanted to explore ‘… complex issues across physical, intellectual and emotional landscapes,’ but with so many ideas jostling cheek by jowl, it left little room for an emotional connection to develop with these characters.
The stage design (Freya Allen) and elements are simple, but fit well with the theme of connection and disconnect with the Earth. The stage was mostly bare of larger elements, instead it focused on a large patch of earth in the center. As ideas of climate change, and what it means to have a child in a dying world, are explored, the earth parallels the language by becoming scattered and smudged.
I enjoyed the interlude, where the director came to the stage and discussed having a problematic body – only looking at issues of motherhood from a white, able, relatively wealthy viewpoint in the play doesn’t account for all the marginalized voices who are underrepresented. Far from pretentious, it helped the audience get perspective on women who are marginalized.
Another element that worked well was the focuse on echidnas, as well as the ancient Greek Goddess Ekidna, a half woman, half snake creature that gave birth to monsters. Wallace-Mead dressed in brown tights, an echidna-patterned jacket, and face mask was striking. With the stage light focused on her, while Lulham helped narrate the information about the Goddess, it felt like it returned the audience to ancient primal urges, before the complexities of modern life started trickling in.
Unsuckle presents an interesting discussion about motherhood in the current day, but some flawed execution stops it from reaching its full potential. Unsuckle is on at La Mama Theatre from February 11 th to the 16 th . Tickets can be purchased at https://lamama.com.au/whats-on/summer-autumn-2020/unsuckle/