Blessed Union - Belvoir St Theatre (NSW)
Directed by Hannah Goodwin. Written by Maeve Marsden. Presented during Sydney WorldPride.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Upstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre
11 FEB – 10 MAR 23
- 'Blessed Union' is incredibly modern with a poignantly real script full of heart, humour and sharp social commentary -
Is there an easy way to end a marriage? What if you’ve fought extraordinarily hard for years to be recognised, for your rights and to be yourself? Maeve Marsden’s emotionally driven, yet hilariously funny play Blessed Union is the “lesbian break up comedy you didn’t know you needed”, and with Sydney WorldPride exploding in our city right now, this truly is the comedy you need.
Marsden herself is no stranger to providing social commentary on stage. She’s created spaces over the years for LGBTQIA+ narratives to be showcased and connect with the wider changes of the world. So it makes sense that her debut play continues this trend, layered with iconoclastic satire, rich and deep characters, and enough humorous weaponry in her arsenal to tickle the most stoic funny bone
Coupled with director Hannah Goodwin, Blessed Union takes aim at the institution of marriage, religion, heteronormative ideals of divorce and the ongoing fight to be seen in an ever changing world. Goodwin herself, having directed and co-directed stellar productions for Belvoir St in recent years (Wayside Bride, Never Closer) is proving herself to be one of Sydney’s most promising young directors. Goodwin has a knack for handling richly layered characters and humour, containing everything within the four walls of the script, yet highlighting each key moment with precision.
Ruth (Danielle Cormack) and Judith (Maude Davey) after being married for years, living at the forefront of the changes in the Australian queer scene, raising two children, Delilah (Emma Diaz) and Asher (Jasper Lee-Lindsay), and creating a safe haven in their kitchen-centred home, are “uncoupling”. But they’re determined to “beat the straights” in the process, proving that divorce doesn’t have to be harsh, and can be done politically, without the messy stuff that comes with it.
Needless to say, when it comes to dealing with the intricacies of love, children and the depth of our emotions as humans, things are never going to be easy.
Credit: Brett Boardman
Marsden’s writing pokes fun at the upper-class, the institutionalised notion of marriage as a whole, and the deep-rooted social tensions from both the left and right-winged beliefs in society. Extending this through Delilah and Asher, who have been raised queer but experience the world without the inherent privilege that comes with being white, Marsden’s words have a playful quality to them, and pushes boundaries without ever vaulting over the line.
Asher is loud, brash and incongruous to the upper echelon of society in his private Catholic school. Ruth sees the privilege that he is given, but fails to see the systemic diaspora that he consistently rebels against being a biracial child. Lee-Lindsay tackles Asher with full force, leaning into his quirks and defiant nature. Though Asher comes across often as cold and distant from the pain of both Ruth and Judith, Lee-Lindsay reveals his deeper emotions throughout.
Opposing Asher’s authority-breaking frivolity, Delilah is neurotically seeking to comprehend the notion of Ruth and Judith’s separation. The fact that Delilah reminds the pair that they haven’t even considered finances shows her perspective of the world. Diaz grounds Delilah in reality and builds her to breaking point as Ruth and Judith strive to come out in front of each other. Diaz’s believability and truthfulness is captivating, solidifying herself to be a talent to watch in the coming years.
Perfectly primed for Sydney WorldPride, this is a must see production.
Cormack and Davey are paired extremely well, bringing an immense believability to their history as a couple. Despite their oncoming divorce, the pair share tender moments between each other. Cormack revels in her agenda to not be assigned to maternal roles, imploring her children to use their names instead of ‘mother’. Davey has a much more tender touch to Judith, as a primary school teacher, the way she deescalates situations is poignantly reminiscent of her role. Due to this, she bears the brunt of the emotional heft that comes.
Isabel Hudson’s set brings to life the safe space of Ruth and Judith’s home. Kitchens in any home are the heart of where stories are told, emotions are shared through a home cooked meal, and memories are passed on from one generation to the next. Hudson creates the family home to be versatile and extremely productive, with an abundance of cooking equipment, pasta makers, a variety of food and a smattering of protest posters adorning the walls. Hudson brings everything (including the kitchen sink) to play with.
Utilising Alyx Dennison’s sound design, the passing of time fills with a tension that doesn’t bode well for the lighthearted declaration at the play’s opening. With Goodwin harnessing the kitchen’s scenery to become more and more cluttered as time goes on, the effects of the possible separation become abundantly clear.
Blessed Union’s script is wholly modern, sitting in a contemporary Australia that would be found under the definition of ‘New Australian Work’. Under the combined efforts of its writer and director, you will laugh (a lot) through sharp quips and declarations throughout its damning critiques of the institution of marriage and what it means to raise a family in a changing world. At its heart, Blessed Union rests on love. Love for ourselves, for our family and for our futures. Perfectly primed for Sydney WorldPride, this is a must see production.
MAEVE MARSDEN WRITER
HANNAH GOODWIN DIRECTOR
ISABEL HUDSON SET & COSTUME DESIGNER
ALYX DENNISON COMPOSER & SOUND DESIGNER
AMELIA LEVER-DAVIDSON LIGHTING DESIGNER
DOM MERCER DRAMATURG
NIGEL POULTON MOVEMENT AND INTIMACY COORDINATOR
LUKE MCGETTIGAN STAGE MANAGER
MIA KANZAKI ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
DANIELLE CORMACK RUTH
MAUDE DAVEY JUDITH
EMMA DIAZ DELILAH
JASPER LEE-LINDSAY ASHER