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Mother Complex and That Sinking Feeling

by Lally Katz
directed by Rosemary Myers
Belvoir St Theatre

Lally Katz’s new play Atlantis is an autobiographical fantasy. It sprouts from something personal and authentic, then leads to something entirely imaginary. Lally, the protagonist, is consumed by anxiety. At 35, she finds herself single and childless. We follow her on an odyssey that takes her from Sydney to the East Coast of the USA; an eventful, wacky journey that comprises a string of amusing characters and incidents. Lally goes through many discoveries, fuelled by a desperate search for love, or at least a husband and a baby.

It is not a quest that all will find persuasive. The deliberately silly scenes in Atlantis are certainly a lot of whimsical fun, however, the central disquiet that motivates all the action seems too trivial, perhaps even narcissistic, to allow us to invest in a meaningful way. Through the plot, Lally comes in contact with more worthy concepts, of climate change, of poverty and of mortality, but they affect her only momentarily. We can all see that her problems diminish their significance as time passes, nonetheless, Lally persists. She must find a man to fall pregnant with, or she simply cannot go on.

Amber McMahon plays a juvenile, yet very likeable, version of the playwright. As though in a pantomime, McMahon’s exaggerated effervescence proves to be captivating, as she keeps us attentive through the highs and lows of Lally’s stories. The production is unquestionably humorous, directed by Rosemary Myers with a relentless sprightliness that offers entertainment and laughter, even when the narrative turns tiresome. Four other actors (Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone, Hazem Shammas and Matthew Whittet) are called upon to perform a big roster of small roles, and they are all remarkable. The infinite versatility of the ensemble astounds us, with what they are able to achieve through sheer inventiveness. Also noteworthy are Damien Cooper’s lights and Jonathon Oxlade’s set, creating exciting images full of colour and movement, increasingly mesmerising as the show turns hopelessly hallucinatory.

Like in all our lives, the promise of a utopia propels the action in Atlantis. We need to believe in something, like that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, in order to set ourselves in motion. Lally Katz does so much in the play, through all its scenes of mischievous adventure, but we see her being neglectful of each moment, keeping her mind focused instead on a puerile objective. We must take notice and pleasure in the joyfulness that's surrounding us, understanding that they have a propensity to surprise us, and learn to see the signs that wish to evolve us. It is how we can experience the magical unpredictability of this existence.

Suzy Wrong

photos | ©Daniel Bound

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