Adelaide Fringe. The Studio, Holden Street Theatres. 6 Mar 2022
English novelist Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot, once penned that “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” Perhaps with this in mind, Patrick Livesey’s final utterance in his affecting dramatic homage to Naomi, his mother, who passed some years ago in tragic circumstances, are that he must say her name often so that he never forgets her. He then turns away from the rapt audience into the fading light and Naomi is ended. One thing is for certain, anyone in the audience will be able to recall Livesey’s mother’s name until their own dying breath.
Naomi is written and performed by Livesey, and it is powerful stuff. It is a seventy minute monologue – perhaps overlong by five minutes or so – and, in true Fringe fashion, is set very simply. In the empathetic ambience of the Studio at Holden Street, there are eight small lights placed in a line on the downstage floor that direct pale blue light upwards. They frame and silhouette Livesey’s face as he steps in and out of their gentle but uncompromising beams. Each lamp designates a significant person in Naomi’s life, variously a parent, sibling, partner, child, or friend. Livesey has selected and interviewed them all. He moves from one light to the other and becomes each significant person in turn. He impressively takes on their voice patterns and mannerisms as he gives accounts of each person’s memories of Naomi. Some of it is very funny, some of it is ruthless, some of it is charmingly nostalgic, and we hang on every well-crafted word, sentence, and gesture.
Director Bronwen Coleman has collaborated beautifully with lighting designer Matt Ralph, composer Biddy Connor, and set designer Xandra Roberts. Between them they have crafted an unpretentious but impressive aesthetic. It’s just enough and emotionally supports Livesey to deliver in spades.
Every now and then, Livesey moves upstage and attaches objects that are personal memories of Naomi to an illuminated large triangular frame: an article of her clothing, a photo, a corsage, and the like. It becomes a shrine. Why a triangle? Whether intended or not by the creative team, the symbolism behind the triangle in some ways illustrates the powerful opposites in Naomi’s life. It evokes the idea that things are often created from opposites: a child is created and parented from feminine and masculine opposites; significant relationships often include both affection and animosity; a child’s love for their parent is coloured by both positive and negative aspects to the relationship.
Livesey’s performance of ‘Vince’, Naomi’s partner and Livesey’s step-father, is memorable. It is thrust into one’s face. We are almost overpowered by the intensity of the character – it makes one feel intimidated and uncomfortable. Experiencing Vince’s harsh machismo almost feels voyeuristic. Is it right that we should know this about him and his relationship with Naomi? Isn’t it private, or at least shouldn’t it be private? And then, almost on the ‘turn of a dime’, Livesey steps out of Vince’s visceral spotlight and becomes someone else, someone gentler, and the dramatic tension is expertly eased.
But the subject matter of Naomi is not gentle. It is about mental illness, substance abuse and suicide. It is confronting, and above all it is a story about a boy’s unconditional love for his mother whom he wishes never to forget.
Livesey is an accomplished actor. Everything he does is absorbing and natural. This is compelling and important theatre.
When: 8 to 20 Mar
Where: Holden Street Theatres