Grief can bring people together, as much as it can tear them apart. For families, bonded by life and love, losing a parent can be devastating – especially when it’s the only one you have. Such topics of loss and learning to deal with its consequences are not usually light, but As We Unravel manages to explore the issues with clarity, humour, and refreshing irreverence.
As We Unravel is about three sisters who, after losing their mother, must find a way to pay the bills, and keep it together – as well as each other. With nothing but themselves and a cupboard full of beans, they must take work where they can get it, and avoid the pitfalls that come with precarity, from taking to the bottle to taking out loans – often from less than scrupulous sources.
The well-drawn sisters each have their own distinct personalities and motivations. Callie (Phoebe Alice Ritchie) is perhaps the most impressionable of the three, wanting to keep the peace in a house of bristling tension. Luce is more of a free-spirit, whose struggle between a desire for independence and love for family is convincingly portrayed by Hayley Osborne. Jemma is a complex but sympathetic character, whose antagonistic attitude hides pains and shames superbly portrayed by Velenzia Spearpoint.
The play is at its best during its scenes of bickering, where jokes over household chores and romantic liaisons give way to bitter arguments. The sisters are all trying their best to cope with loss, with each one tested by new opportunities and old troubles, whether that means a chance at love, or a return to something less clear-cut (and a little more troubling).
Staging decisions may have been made for logistical reasons, but the effect is one of intimacy – placing the audience right there in the sisters’ kitchen. Sally Hardcastle’s set is cosy yet rough around the edges, giving the sense of a lived-in home that has seen better days. However, this tight space could make some of the scene transitions feel a little awkward. Characters spend a lot of time changing clothes and details, some of which I wasn’t sure were needed and could often disrupt the momentum of the show.
Still, the main problems I have relate to dialogue and tone. I loved some of the absurd and silly humour, particularly when it came to baked beans and, well, a rather unsightly find in one tin. Unfortunately, this was also set against some very expository dialogue that made interactions feel a little unnatural.
The play also has some interesting detours into darker territory. These include predatory affairs (and maybe abuse), alcoholism, and selling drugs. Given the playful nature of the show, these elements (while admirable attempts at exploring serious issues) were rather jarring. Despite being powerfully acted, these intense moments did not feel earned, nor satisfying on a level beyond surprise.
As We Unravel is a fun show with a lot to offer in character and conflict. As the directorial debut of Sassy Clyde and the Lotus Players company, the show is a promising entry, brought to life by a talented cast and fine production talents. I look forward to seeing what comes next!
As We Unravel is showing at the Bread and Roses Theatre until May 25.
Book tickets on the website.