Ghosting the Party – SBW Stables Theatre (NSW)
Written by Melissa Bubnic, directed by Andrea James, design by Isabel Hudson
Review by Charlotte Smee
Grace (Belinda Giblin) is 87, and she’s ready to "leave the party"; all her friends are dead and now her sister is too. Her daughter, Dorothy (Jillian O’Dowd) doesn’t want to let her – but Grace’s granddaughter Suzie (Amy Hack) thinks it’s not such a crazy idea. They joke about different ways she could do it, and when Grace actually tries to take her own life, she finds she just can’t finish the job. Ghosting the Party is Melissa Bubnic’s latest instalment of insightful writing and well-drawn characters bringing the experiences of women and older women to the fore, making for an emotional exploration of what it’s like to face the inevitability of death.
Design by Isabel Hudson is unflinchingly, hilariously feminine, with tiny pink floral wallpaper stretching from the furthest point of the stage to the “roof” of Grace’s home. We open with the three women taking down gaudy floral sheets and folding them into a basket, each dressed in the bathrobe of their generation. Dorothy’s costumes are all Gen X floral sweaters and sneakers, Suzie’s are browns and black ankle boots of the millennial, and Grace is stuck in her “comfortable” Velcro beige shoes. Simple design choices like these place us in a world that is clearly domestic, the world of the carer and the mother. It makes issues like Suzie’s desire to be childless visually meaningful, when she is dressed in neutrals and everyone around her wears floral frumpy clothing.
Lighting design by Verity Hampson and sound design by Phil Downing compliments Hudson’s design by bringing depth to this world. Blue neon lights paired with simple club beats turn the back of the stage into a Canadian club, and in the more “theatrical” moments projections of scene titles and undulating guitars nudge us somewhere outside of reality.
The women who play Bubnic’s mother, daughter, granddaughter trio are what really brings this show to life. Giblin as Grace has a bone dry wit, and this played alongside O’Dowd’s Dorothy’s sickly sweet desperation for approval hits very close to home. In one scene, Giblin plays a cheap older gentleman that Dorothy has dinner with, and she is absolutely hilarious.
Her range, in playing a distraught, fed up old woman, to a loving mother, to a cheap old man, is brilliant to say the least. Hack as granddaughter Suzie is also eerily familiar; her phone call with O’Dowd when she is asked over and over to come home from Canada had me flinching and sobbing in the stalls. It is incredibly validating to have your experiences of fraught motherhood, daughterhood, granddaughterhood, portrayed with such verve.
Scene titles said out loud can sometimes feel off, or overly dramatic, but Giblin’s titles add a personal, broader touch to the specificity of the relationships between them. Direction by Andrea James lets the words shine, then breathe, before moving unflinchingly to full and vibrant emotional performances like the final all-out screaming match. Such a deft touch allows for a very unpretentious kind of poetry that rightfully belongs in grandma's house.
Ghosting the Party is a simple, raw portrait of being a daughter and a mother and an old person, and what it takes to figure all of that out. If you feel like crying, laughing, and crying again, head down to the SBW Stables for that aching, terrible, wonderful pull of familial love.
Ghosting the Party plays until 18 June at Griffin Theatre Company’s SBW Stables Theatre. Find tickets here.
CAST AND CREATIVES
Director Andrea James Designer Isabel Hudson Lighting Designer Verity Hampson Associate Lighting Designer Saint Clair Composer & Sound Designer Phil Downing Stage Manager Madelaine Osborn With Belinda Giblin, Amy Hack, Jillian O’Dowd