Female characters in Mockingbird


13 Mar 2019 /
CHB Municipal Theatre, Waipawa / 
By Shelley Burne-Field

Mockingbird is a dynamic original play that has challenged, entertained, and in many cases transformed itself and its audiences since 2014.  First imagined by script-writer, Lisa Brickell, who also trained under the Lecoq acting method in Paris, it has been workshopped and reimagined in collaboration with co-directors Ruth Dudding and Giovanni Fusetti.  Mockingbird 2019 has evolved into a reflective Arts on Tour offering that can change at each viewing.

The story is about four generations of mothers and daughters struggling with the fall-out of postnatal depression.  Lisa Brickell uses her Lecoq background to full effect with punchy but simple movement as she plays a suite of her own family’s true-life male and female characters:  Tina, a present-day counsellor who shoulders the burden of one hundred years of maternal secrets, angst and the ghosts of family mental health.  Back through decades to Great-Grandmother, Annie, who sailed to early 1900s New Zealand with illegitimate child waiting to be born into possibly not the best mental health system – ever.  Male characters are acted as hollow shells but have been concisely and physically drawn with a precise gait or a specific Dad-dance move that captures the essence enough to just portray a vignette.  The lack of depth can be forgiven within the sixty minute performance.

Less forgivable is the racist stereotypical treatment of a Polynesian male character, Tai and his family – all played by Brickell – complete with “bro this” and “bro that” lines.  Being Tina’s ‘baby-daddy’, Tai gets a laugh but normalises an audience’s biases and his portrayal feels outdated and disrespectful.  A portrayal only spared by a heartfelt ending where the story is placed into a brief cultural framework with Tai’s supportive family.  Unfortunately, the brevity of Mockingbird does not allow for a full exploration of this theme.  Thus the racial sterotypes remain jarring – and the vital significance of mental health support and culture diversity is unresolved.

What works brilliantly is the relationship between the two actors.  Brickell’s onstage side-kick Siri Embla who plays the part of the narrator/musician, amplifies Tina’s inner voice and society’s ‘monkey-on-shoulder’ judgements.  As the perfect static foil to Brickell’s energetic movement, Embla’s character nicely sucks the audience into a key part of the experience – connecting the characters and our own internal and external worlds.  Norwegian Embla literally harmonises with Brickell in song and performance which adds lightness to the dark.  Don’t worry, it’s just black enough to chip away at an audience’s expectant ironic bones with some funny elbow jolts along the way.

A key element to the enjoyment and resolution of the story is the interjection of a Pantalone masked character played by Brickell.  In previous incantations, the ‘mask’ aspect of the play has been questioned as unneeded and distracting.  However, this 2019 interpretation cannily captures the mischievous and persistent nature of a metaphorical ‘depression’ voice and fully scoped character in its own right.  Here, Brickell and the soul of the play shines.  Embla’s haunting repetition of Tina’s internal dialogue “three hourly or on demand” gets right to the heart of the internal and external struggle of a woman in the throws of postnatal depression.  We get it.  Meanwhile, Brickell’s jaunty poetic prancing of Pant complete with Hannibal Lecter-like tongue-flicking drags us again and again into the dark alongside Tina – with just a bit of light to show us the way home.

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