Fringe 2008, Gryphon Theatre
Feb 26-March 1 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

BILLED as ‘a rather strange play written and directed by Dan Ashworth’, Lady of Tears doesn’t disappoint. The dialogue is highly stylised, the narrative is quirky and there are moments of bizarre surrealism.

Susannah Donovan is Olivia, who has been abandoned by the man she loves as she stood waiting for him in front of a grey building. She is befriended by Lily (Jennifer Thompson) who has been watching her and sees the domestic drama unfold. Lily is clearly manipulative, and in a cult-like operation she tries to isolate Olivia from her friends and well wishers including the jolly café owner Susan (Tanya Piejus).

Lily reminds Olivia of all her sadness, fears and humiliations, drawing on her grief and stealing her essence. Like an evil sprite, there is something disturbingly fey about the movement of her arms and the tilt of her head. It transpires she is a creature who seduces vulnerable people to fall under the sway of her influence and then feeds on their sorrow for her emotional fulfilment.

Working in the same grey building, Dr Carpathian (Don Quiring), Crunlin (Matt Clayton) and Shaplov (Chong Sin Lim) have previously fallen beneath the spell of one of these creatures. As they speak they interrupt each other and finish their sentences in an effortless weave of dialogue, while indulging in slapstick moments such as chasing each other with a broom.

They believe it is ‘better to be a cringing emotional cripple than a heartless loveless shell of a person’, and they ‘joke a lot and play silly games because it helps to keep the sadness at bay.’ They have a ritual to banish the gloom, donning shades, singing a ridiculous anthem and downing Prozac. In explaining that Lily is decidedly not supernatural, but that everything is a syndrome with a potential cure, they use ‘benign deceit to conquer malign deceit’. With the recent headline grabbing news that the over-prescription of Prozac is largely ineffective, this reflection on modern medicine and psychiatry is quite timely.

Lily gives Olivia a token and she begins to succumb to its melancholic pull, and for a moment I feared it was going to descend into a Lord of the Rings-type debacle, but fortunately it moves on. Some people genuinely don’t want to let go and would rather drown in their sorrow, but the cure is to think happy thoughts. Susan is the down-to-earth cheerer-upper whose humour is meant to brighten the gloom, although jokes about domestic violence are never funny and her air-guitar playing is particularly painful.

The narrative style of the women is slightly Brechtian as they halt their conversations to face out to the audience and explain the situation and their emotions, rather than showing us. Even the lighting highlights the bits it wants us to notice with rapid changes and sudden blackouts. This play is more than rather strange – it’s downright odd – and it attempts to appeal on a cerebral rather than a visceral level.