The Flood

By Jackie Smith

Produced by Critical Stages and Finucane and Smith

The Street Theatre 19 Aug 2012

Set on an old sheep farm in rural New South Wales, this Australian gothic horror draws you in on aesthetics alone. Walking into the theatre, you instantly sense the isolation in which the characters are entrapped, with the ageing, threadbare architecture of the dilapidated family homestead revealing the haunting, unforgiving landscape outside.

Middle-aged divorcee Dorothy (Maude Davey) and her increasingly senile mother Janet (Shirley Cattunar) are again living together back at the farm by circumstance, with both women alone and broken by events that took place there many years before.

Hearing of her mother’s illness and her sister’s growing dependence on alcohol, the long absent Catherine (Caroline Lee) decides to return from London to her childhood home to persuade her mother to move to an aged care facility.

But rather than being greeted with open arms by her family after 22 years away, Catherine is instead treated with suspicion and contempt. Shocked by the mess and dysfunction, Catherine becomes alarmed at the disturbing stories coming from her mother, which are only compounded by Dorothy’s cold and enigmatic behaviour.

As Catherine probes deeper into her family’s long-held secrets, what is grudgingly revealed is a past that is far from Catherine’s rose-tinted memories of an idealist rural upbringing that was disrupted by the disappearance of her father in the flood of 1972.

A deeply intriguing production, Jackie Smith’s dark, insightful and unmistakeably Australian writing keeps you teetering on the edge of your seat until the final, profoundly moving moments. The mystery unfolds at a tantalising pace, alternately weaving in decoys and clues to make you feel as entangled in the story as the characters.

All three women give equally honest and convincing performances, however
Davey stands out as the bitter and stoic, but ultimately self sacrificing Dorothy, taking her character to the most incredible depths to reveal the quiet desperation beyond her prickly exterior.

Lee was initially a little weaker as the bewildered Catherine, with her delivery starting off a little stilted. However, her chemistry with Davey ignited the spark needed to bring her gentle character to life, balancing out the disquiet of the other two personalities and coaxing out the underlying bond between the two sisters.

Cattunar is brilliantly authentic as a woman not only experiencing the loss of her mind through dementia but who is also complicated by the systematic denial yet constant reminder of a painful past, and is both endearing and pitiful to behold.

Like a good gothic piece should, The Flood pulls at something deep within to produce a gut wrenching sense of unease that it doesn’t seek to resolve. It’s a disturbing, fascinating portrayal of the darker side of rural Australia, and is a highlight of the theatre scene for 2012 – don’t miss this one.

Deborah Hawke