Kate Larsen caught a one-night only performance of a collaboration between Rachel High and Julie McNamara, at Brady Arts Centre on 2 September 2009
Meet the Connor sisters: Steak and Chelsea, two very different siblings meeting up after eight years apart.
This mini two-hander begins with Steak (Julie McNamara) breaking and entering her way back into sister Chelsea’s (Rachel High) house and life. But things have changed in the eight years that Steak has been in jail. Chelsea has become a successful, independent woman while Steak has stuck in time.
On one of the two projection screens, we follow Steak on her long walk home; a return to the familiar that now seems strange. She quickly tries to elbow her way back into Chelsea’s life, automatically falling into old patterns – both protective and bullying of her younger, disabled sister – completely disbelieving of Chelsea’s success and the fact she now has a live-in girlfriend.
With a glimpsed history of bitterness, jealousy and vulnerability, the two of them begin to reinvent their dysfunctional relationship. But Chelsea not only holds her ground in the face of Steak’s wheedling and bullying, but turns it around – using tests, rules and manners to reset the power balance. From poetry and table manners to dance lessons, she puts the bemused Steak through her paces. And later it becomes clear that Chelsea has actually had the power for quite some time.
This is the second incarnation of the play - the first being an Australian commission by No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability and the Feast Festival in 2008 (Adelaide's celebration of diverse sexualities and genders).
With High in the neighbourhood to speak at the World Congress on Downs Syndrome in Dublin, the pair took the opportunity to restage the play in London for one night only. It is still very much a work in progress. We get glimpses of sub-plots and want to know more. And the climax, when it comes, isn’t as powerful as the journey we went on to get there.
What started as a conversation between High and McNamara in a bar three years ago has become a compelling, collaborative partnership and the team should be congratulated for putting it together with only three days’ rehearsal. Charlotte Picton’s pulled-together-in-two-days set manages to evoke both a living room and prison cell across the high-shine floorboards of the Brady Arts Centre.
The script is (overly?) simple, accessible and funny. Chelsea’s one-liners and come-backs are sharp and witty, and High delivers them with a cheeky humour that’s impossible not to enjoy.
What was clear in the post-show Q&A was how moving both actors have found the production and how much they have both learned from it and from each other. McNamara spoke openly of the way it has challenged her own assumptions and prejudices about what people can and can’t do. And it is this thoughtfulness, respect and shared learning that makes watching Steak and Chelsea such a quiet and contemplative experience.
The show will go into further development next year and certainly has the scope to be worked up into a breath-taking full production. I look forward to seeing what comes next.
Actors - Rachel High and Julie McNamara
Director - Caglar Kimyoncu
Lighting Design - Gursen Houssein
Set Design - Charlotte Picton
Alan Clifton - Trainee Lighting Assistant
Commissioned by No Strings Attached Theatre in partnership with Feast Festival Adelaide