Red Silk

Nerida Dickinson

BLUE ROOM THEATRE: An intensely captivating exploration of mental health and mental illness, twisted therapist/patient relationships and perceptions of truth and delusion.
Red Silk
In Red Silk, playwright Lois Achimovich presents a strongly imagined meeting between poet Anne Sexton and her two psychiatrists, set in “a nice, collegial discussion” in which Anne said the two therapists congratulate each other on a job well done.

Anne (Roz Hammond) arrives to see her doctor, Martin (Luke Hewitt), who has treated her for over 11 years. He is visiting in town, and has invited Ted (Dan Luxton), Anne’s current primary psychiatrist, along for a chat. Neither Ted nor Anne had been aware of the other’s invitation, and Martin obviously has something on his mind. He tells Ted and Anne that they have been seen carrying on an inappropriate affair; he has devised a solution to their problem. Ted, recovering from the shock, smells a rat, and questions Martin’s motivations. Anne alternatively finds the situation frustrating and amusing, and plays games designed to agitate the two men. Martin leaves to give a speech elsewhere, and the conversation between the three resumes in the morning, with matters further thrashed out and, as far as possible, resolved.

Red Silk is presented on a traverse stage in a small room, with audience members facing one another across the elongated performance space. Hammond and Hewitt are enthralling throughout, especially Hammond, who with her highly mobile face and languid drawl gives a wonderful portrayal of a strong and multifaceted character. The seating arrangement had its disadvantages, in that there were inevitably times where Hammond had her back to parts of the room, but her acting was so convincing that one could picture her pouts and snarls from the way she wriggled her shoulder blades.

Where Hammond’s Sexton was pure motion and emotion, Hewitt’s Martin gripped with his wonderful solidity and refusal to shift his expression, even under fire from Sexton’s experienced provocations. His eyes drew attention with their ferocious stillness, a perfect counterpart to the fluidity of Hammond’s performance. The interactions between the two characters played up her desperate desire to be seen in her own right and his resolution to interpret the world and her illness on his own terms. Hammond’s solo pieces, performing poetry, were precious vignettes of sly sexuality in their own right, and complemented the narrative while providing some formal structure.

Luxton enjoyed a strongly written role, which he conveyed quite well when he had no spoken lines. He conveyed Ted’s quizzical charm and fundamental lack of integrity with ease, as well as the internal conflicts between the emotional and professional self. However, his appalling accent work, starting vaguely trans-Atlantic (appropriate for a slightly earlier period piece), shifted around the United States via South Africa before settling on Australian. Such a minor detail became quite distracting and frustrating, especially with Hammond and Hewitt’s accomplishments at fully bringing their roles to life.

Space is at a premium at The Blue Room, and by turning an entrance into an ‘external window’ with deftly executed lighting prowess, the technical team added a further dimension to an already multi-layered performance. Street lights and fresh sunlight clearly separated the acts, with the morning meeting not only taking place in an airy, sunlit space, but also making the suggestion that the characters are removed from a wider world.

A piece that threatened to be limited to those interested in mid-Twentieth Century feminist poets and the history of psychiatry, turned out to be an intense, fascinating exploration of self-identity, betrayal, love, lies and sensuality, delivered in spellbinding manner by Hammond and Hewitt, who make the most of Achimovich’s compelling script.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Red Silk
A new play by Lois Achimovich
Presented by The Blue Room Theatre and Red Silk Productions
Directed by Aarne Neeme
Dramaturg: Pippa Williamson
Designer: Lawrie Cullen-Tait
Stage Manager: Jenny Friend
Lighting: Aarne Neeme, John Toussaint & Chris Taylor
Performed by Roz Hammond, Dan Luxton and Luke Hewitt

The Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge
February 13 – March 31

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.