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The End of Soft Lies

✮✮✮✮ 1/2

Catherine McKinnon's Hurt

directed by Kim Hardwick

A horrific road accident brings the breakdown of a relationship to its accelerated boiling point. Surrounded by trauma, Mel and Dom are in a state of anguished disintegration, trying to make sense of marriage and family amidst the smithereens. Catherine McKinnon’s Hurt is ruthless in its depiction of human frailties. Through themes of parenthood and misfortune, her play illustrates life at its most difficult moments, asking us to consider the importance of empathy and compassion, not only for others but also for ourselves. There is a complexity to the writing that demands of us, deep analysis as well as a humane response, bringing attention to the nature of our collective ethics and values. Hurt is both controversial and mundane, exposing highly contentious issues within a context of common occurrences, to orchestrate great dramatic tension for the theatre, and to challenge the ways we think about life and the way we treat one another.

Director Kim Hardwick brings a lethal combination of operatic emotionality and psychological acuity to a production that enthrals from start to finish. The interplay of characters constantly fluctuates to keep us mystified and on edge, but a sense of truth prevails no matter which way the show’s tone oscillates. An unrelenting and dark intensity drives the plot through its surprising revelations, with a seductive force impossible to resist, drawing us further and further into its agonising quagmire. Production design adheres to Hardwick’s powerful but subtle aesthetic approach. Set design by Isabel Hudson, lights by Martin Kinnane, and Katelyn Shaw’s soundscapes provide the cast with elegantly effective backdrops against which their magic happens.

Meredith Penman plays Mel, the troubled mother of two, with a delicious daring that complicates our need to sympathise and deride. Resisting the temptation to turn her character into a convenient victim, Penman’s ability to portray convincing fallibility is key to the show’s brilliance. No parent can ever be perfect, yet we hold them to a certain standard that Mel’s story shows to be impossible for many. The role of Alex is performed by the very impressive Gabrielle Scawthorn, whose work in Hurt is nothing short of spectacular. Perfectly measured and delicately balanced, Scawthorn’s creation is simultaneously brutal and tender, displaying an extraordinary vulnerability in her undeniably painful process. Ivan Donato provides excellent support as Mel’s husband Dominic, with a focused conviction that helps sustain the protracted and mesmerising hysteria of Mel’s world.

When it all comes tumbling down, we are faced with the choice of surrender or struggle. We watch the people in Hurt fight through incredible hardship, and worry if their spirit can pull them through. We want to believe that our fortitude can surmount anything, but the truth is that weakness co-exists with strength and can sometimes be the element that defeats. It is in trauma that one’s mettle gets tested and even though every successful attempt to overcome must be celebrated. It is necessary that our failures are afforded forgiveness.

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