HURT, Downstairs Theatre Belvoir St, 9-13 August 2017. Photography: above - Meredith Penman; below - Gabrielle Scawthorn and Christopher Stollery
This short season at Downstairs Belvoir makes it clear for those of us who missed it first time around, that Catherine McKinnon’s play Hurt, first staged last year by WhiteBox Theatre at the Old 505 in Newtown, is a remarkable piece of writing. And its trio of astute character studies are brought vividly to life by Kim Hardwick’s direction of Christopher Stollery, Meredith Penman and Gabrielle Scawthorn.
Set in one of those irretrievably grim hospital holding areas where frantic and traumatised people wait for news from operating theatres (set design Isabel Hudson, lighting Martin Kinnane), Hurt is what happens to each of the three – individually, collectively, inflicted and self-inflicted and all too recognisable.
Meredith Penman is Mel, mother of two children, one of whom has been hit by a car in the street outside their home as she took a much needed nap. Her horror and guilt are tangible as she visibly comes apart at the seams. her imagination fills the empty hours and bare room with visions of what might be happening to her little girl and what is happening to her own psyche meanwhile.
She is joined by Alex (Gabrielle Scawthorn) a young woman who was on the scene and who inexpertly administered first aid to the injured child. She is reluctantly drawn in to Mel’s grief and need of someone, something, some solace in the absence of her husband and any information. Like so many of us, Alex is extremely uncomfortable with Mel’s overwhelming neediness and emotion yet despite half-hearted attempts, she cannot quite bring herself to abandon the woman.
Bounding in late and righteously furious, Dominic (Christopher Stollery) is bursting with suppressed resentment and his efforts to contain it and be calm and civilised. It becomes quickly apparent that he has other secrets bubbling beneath his urbane surface and when Mel realises he already knows Alex in some way, the fuse is lit for an explosion of antagonism, reproach and disappointment.
However, Hurt is not a cliched story of dishonest and sorry relationships and McKinnon manages to disguise and confound assumptions and expectations with an adroit hand. Although the play can be a little overwrought at times (hardly surprising given the subject matter) it’s a gripping and credible piece. It’s also given the very best possible exposition by its director and cast.
Hardwick maintains a tightly choreographed pace and staging that enables each actor to shine in solo moments; as well there is vital connections of drama and pathos between the two women, and the warring husband and wife. Stollery is sadly moving in his not-quite-right interactions and motivations; Penman masterfully holds the line on bathos and is riveting to watch while Scawthorne is, yet again, superbly nuanced and solid in her performance. They are mesmerising to watch and the 85 minutes pass in a flash of dramatic fireworks – yet there is substance and rich pickings for an audience and it’s thoroughly recommended. But be quick.