Small Mercies by Daniel Keene
Review by Katherine Lyall-Watson
Small Mercies is a series of five short stories by award-winning Australian playwright Daniel Keene. They’ve been strung together seamlessly so that they form a new, delicate entity. Directors Fraser Corfield and Nadine McDonald, with gentle touches and an outstanding cast of actors, have transformed these vignettes into a beautiful, thought-provoking night of theatre.
The play begins with The Violin, an oblique piece showing a family displaced, leaving, taking nothing with them. They could be Jewish, Croatian or Moslem. Alison Ross's set reflects the poverty, transience and upheaval contained in the stories. From the rubble of possessions, bodies begin to slowly appear.
These are the QUT drama students on secondment to La Boite. At times their focused presence is well used and becomes a powerful asset to the storytelling, at others it is distracting and gets in the way. In The Violin, they are a moving illustration to the text.
Neither Lost Nor Found is next. Monette Lee and Yasmim Quemard are mesmerising as the mother and 13-year-old daughter who've been separated for nine years. Both actors weep copiously and seemingly in spite of themselves throughout this tender piece. Quemard is quite phenomenal as the hurting and angry child. She balances her emotions perfectly and the scene where she lets her guard down while reading a letter from her foster parents is magic.
Hayden Spencer offers laughter and a reprieve from the high emotion of the previous duologue in Untitled Monologue. Time and again this year Spencer has proved himself to be one of Brisbane's finest and most powerful performers. Playing a bewildered country boy trying to find his feet in the city as he writes home to his father is no exception. This man is an awesome talent. He blends naiveté and menace in an explosive mix.
After a short interval comes a play that has the audience weeping as one. To Whom It May Concern is the story of an elderly man who discovers he only has weeks to live and who has sole care of a 40 year old intellectually disabled son. It is essentially a monologue by Michael Forde, with Spencer in the non-speaking role of the son. Images from this piece will be forever seared across my mind.
Wondering how on earth anything could follow such harrowing material, it's a relief to settle back in the secure hands of Bev Langford. With a light heart and a twinkle in her eyes, she reminisces in The Rain. At first she appears to be quite potty, until you realise she's been the witness to one of humanity's greatest horrors. And we come full circle to the family disappearing in the night in the first play.
Although Small Mercies is at times harrowing, it is so beautifully written and finely performed that I urge you to go see it. Topics like these so deftly handled should be what theatre is all about.
Time Off Magazine, 17 October 2001
Courtesy Bev Langford