Two extremely traumatic events happen in Mary Anne Butler’s Broken. Ash, Ham and Mia are regular people encountering dreadful circumstances. Their agony is positioned within their very ordinariness, compelling us to relate to their hurt with the most immediate intimacy. It is a poetic piece of writing, with characters speaking directly to us, or perhaps to themselves, but only occasionally engaging each other in dialogue. Instead of demonstrating incidents as they occur, we are given recollections, as though in psychotherapy sessions where the subject has to access memories, from which levels of understanding can be reached over time, as the dust begins to settle. The text is experimental, often very powerful in its description of shocking details relating to the horrors being faced and the accompanying emotions. Although it is arguable if the words address sufficiently, the essentially spatial nature of a theatrical script.
The staging involves three stationary microphone stands, with a cast restricted by their apparatus. The play features crippled personalities, and what we see are three individuals confined to tight spaces, unable to gain a breakthrough for their struggles. Frustrated, stifled and depressed, they are caged in and try as they might to talk themselves out of darkness. Their efforts are futile. The show is appropriately sombre and although never short of emotional intensity, its dramatic qualities are subdued. Much is made of speech and sounds, including the slightly awkward incorporation of foley techniques, but physical and visual aspects of the production are heavily reduced. Without strong imagery to coincide with its verbal aspects, the production relies heavily on the audience’s imagination which may not always be an effective means of allowing the story to connect.
Actors are uniformly strong, with impressive cohesion in their presentational style and tone. Thoroughly well-rehearsed and precisely executed, Ivan Donato, Sarah Enright and Rarriwuy Hick’s portrayals are confident and convincing. The harrowing nature of their depictions proves to be of no hindrance to the depth of exploration they are able to provide. Even though opportunities for interaction between players are infrequent, their timing as a group is beautifully polished and a pleasure to witness.
Accidents can ruin us, and although life goes on for those who survive, recovery is not always a surety. In Broken, we are subject to an examination of our being during the worst of days, without an opportunity to escape into the promise of a brighter future. Plunged into hopelessness, the play keeps our consciousness inside its pain, before we are able to again take a departure and let our human resilience to help us move on.