University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
The Little Theatre
Until 19 Aug 2017

Review by Kylie Pedler

“What a production!” A brave choice by the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild, but highly effective.

“Three Tall Women” examines the life of one woman. Fractured and multilayered, the three women are actually different personas of the same one. As the plot focuses on the at times incoherent tales of A and repetitive play of the forgetful mind, the frank dialogue by playwright Edward Albee shares everything from infidelity to incontinence and a forgetful mind, portraying aging without sentimentality. It is witty while full of pain. The observations of the reality of growing old so truthful it is confronting. And the ambiguity of naming the characters A, B and C highlights the reality that this could be anyone of us.

Geoff Brittain has assembled a talented cast. His direction has enabled a plot that could easily be stilted and mundane to move freely around the stage with purpose and intensity.

The first act is quite slow (by no fault of this production) as A moves from bed to chair, B acts as her in-house nurse and C the lawyer’s assistant. Jean Walker as the 90 something year old A, (she will debate the exact age), depicts the daily events with such actuality: the sudden demise into impromptu crying, good morning—bed wetting, the swapping of stories, reminiscing over time lost and regressing to childhood memories. For anyone who has witnessed a family member suffering from dementia, Walker’s portrayal will hit home. Rachel Burfield as B encapsulates a woman who has become bitter and cynical at what she has to do, while Jessica Carroll as C highlights the naivety of an outsider, unable to understand the daily battles of all who live with the elderly.

In the second act, as Carroll portrays the 26 year old version of A, the audience is invited to question how we are incapable of imaging who we might become or how we might become strangers to ourselves. Carroll’s performance is warm-hearted and sincere in her innocence and obstinacy. B is now the 52 year old version of A in the midst of middle age regret; an embattled and bitter woman. Burfield is fabulous. As they argue, teach and advise and the stories and memories of A’s life are shared, one can see how a person can become hardened, cynical, and aggressively suspicious from the lifelong burden of having to be strong for everyone.

Ole Wiebkin has cleverly created the ambience of a room that belongs to a once-socialite woman who is approaching her last days. The bed remains the central dominance within the room while also allowing for the much needed space required by someone with such limited mobility. A chandelier, drapery and seating add further to the tone. All is effectively supported by mood lighting (Scott Cleggett) and musical tunes.

A true ensemble piece with everyone interdependent; however, each character is so strong that they easily hold our attention. The language is striking, the characters true to life, and the observation so accurate that this is truly a deeply moving piece of theatre. Well worth seeing.