By Isabelle Lepore
Make Believe is a bittersweet blend of comedy and regret, a bit like chomping on a sour Haribo: enjoying the sweet acidity, you dive in for another, and another, till the packet is empty and your fingers are left sticky and plastered together with sugary crystals. I’m not saying you want to leave your audience needing a napkin, but you do want to leave them craving more. This is why bittersweet plays are often the most to difficult to pull off. Director Yuval Brigg and producer Joanna Popanastassiou did so tactfully. Both appreciated Froberg’s poignant and stirring exploration into the human condition through her characters, which was reflected in their casting choices. The play follows the Lisenko family and the effects of their youngest daughter’s disappearance upon their familial connectivity. When the case resurfaces five years later, new truths are also exposed.
The theme of kinship in particular seemed eternally present throughout the dynamic between Lena and Natasha, who shared incredibly tender moments. Katherine Johnston’s portrayal of Natasha was extremely palpable. The expressiveness of Johnston’s voice, surging through a spectrum of emotions with ease, really made the part. Flickering from wittiness to weariness, from annoyance to fear, from aggression to affection, Johnston was totally committed to the role. As was Simone Mumford, whose performance, as Lena, was electrifying. Infusing the role with such energy, Mumford had an acute ability to alter the mood of the scene. Lena’s fond, sisterly warmth, skilfully undercut by the snide remarks of a shallow and popular teen, tumbling from her pride in the most harrowing way- just gripping.
Natasha’s fawning parents, Mike (Henry Longstaff) and Lydia (Ellie Walpole) were oddly chipper to begin with. Their awkward, artificial smiles around Natasha added to the comedic element, emphasising their need to conceal the brokenness haunting the Lisenko family. Ellie Walpole gave meaning to her physicality. Clutching and constantly fidgeting with her hands to indicate Lydia’s highly strung, finicky nature, Walpole frosted Lydia with a coating of denial. Henry Longstaff rendered Mike’s character with an endearing protectiveness. Clearly, Mike is a father torn apart by the disappearance of a beloved daughter, a father who wishes to revert back to a time of innocence and child-play. Vincent Klein’s Marcus had an attentive inquisitiveness – a loveable quality, endangered by his longing to enter a relationship unaffected by his harrowing past ordeals. I enjoyed watching the tensions simmer and unfurl between Natasha and Marcus, and recognising their startling parallels with the Lisenko parents, both pairs desiring closure.
Now, Lt. Harris is, admittedly, a provisional role created for the sake of context. And yet, Jacob Taylor’s brief appearance was intriguing. Tampering with the original pace of the play, Taylor succeeded in displaying real concern, whilst unnerving the audience as he unearthed fresh truths about the case. It is his responsibilities, to reveal horrific news and reopen scabbed-over scars, that make the insides tremble. It was a shame, therefore, that Lt. Harris remained in only one corner of the stage whilst delivering his crucial lines. The viewer wants to feel a real sense of his intrusiveness, but the staging of the scene reduced that credibility.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely in love with the script, which was littered with asininely adolescent conversations, cringeworthy Americanisms (such as “dweeb” and “super lame”), and edgily cliched lines. Inconsistencies in the accents were, at times, a touch clumsy and the humourous elements of the play almost undermined the grief of internalised traumas. Yet Brigg retained the audience’s attention with tart, climactic moments of sincerity. Unsettling and sharp, these sliced through teen playfulness, exhibiting the loneliness and guilt built into Natasha’s imaginative scope.
This production was speckled with candid and insightful scenes. All of which were fantastically held together by a glorious set! Filip Gesse’s perceptive eye for detail was clear from the moment I stepped inside. Glinting yellowish flecks of glow-in-the-dark-stars peppered the beams and walls of the barn, alongside illustrations of infamous constellations. This all made for an enchanting and immersive set, which thematically married well with Natasha’s astronomical interests.
Steve Sheridan’s costume choices, a mixture of casual loungewear and formal attire, reflected the characters personalities while simultaneously noting the high and low points in their lives. Nathan Billis’ use of lighting also constructed a fantastic sense of atmosphere; bathing scenes and set changes in melancholic blue hues, ensuring that the audience didn’t lose touch with the murkier context of the play.
Gabe Dentoni and Joe Spence conducted sound. They piped music aptly reflective of the play’s tones and added a feel of domesticity with the familiar chimes of doorbells, phones and the buzz of the television. Combined, the set and sound enclosed the audience in the house with the Lisenkos, and then transported them deeper into Natasha’s imaginative subconscious, as she converses with Lena across a starry set.
At a suitable length of an hour and 45 minutes, all delivered by a wonderfully diverse and talented cast, I had a thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking evening and I would fully recommend you nab a ticket before they sell out!