Rhonda is in Therapy

Nicole Eckersley

This new work from Hoy Polloy Theatre is a touching and often funny exploration of what is usually considered the most cutting form of grief: the sudden loss of a young child.
Rhonda is in Therapy
This new work from Hoy Polloy Theatre and Baggage Productions is a touching – and often funny – exploration of what is often considered the most cutting form of grief: the sudden loss of a young child. We meet Rhonda as she visits her new therapist for the first time, and slowly see every aspect of her life unfold in their discussions. In bereavement, the term ‘complicated grief’ is used to describe intense or unresolved mourning; in Rhonda Is In Therapy, Rhonda brings whole new meanings to the word ‘complicated’.

The work, written by Bridgette Burton (with the development assistance of Julian Meyrick, and of the R E Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Award) and directed by Wayne Pearn, is surprisingly long at an hour and a half, but given I didn’t realise that fact until I was on the tram home, it’s safe to say it doesn’t drag in the least.

This is going to be a hard work to review, because it contains not just one big reveal, but several, each of which reshapes the work, and re-casts its events in a series of new and increasingly convoluted lights. All of which I am itching to talk about at length, because they are really quite good, but my lips are sealed. Suffice to say that there was many an ‘OH MY!’-type moment. It’s also, as is to be expected, a big old tear-jerker. With material like this, it would be hard not to be, but Burton has added a good amount of levity to offset the emotional subject matter, and handles the work’s emotions neatly, so there’s a nice flow between humour and drama.

In the lead role, Louise Crawford was a little awkward to begin with, but soon warmed up and gave a solid and very believable turn as Rhonda, a 40-something chemical engineering professor, all nervous energy and elbows. Ben Grant offered a well-executed performance as her absurdly lovely German husband Lief (with both an excellently maintained German accent, and some actual German for good measure). Jamieson Caldwell did a good (if brief) job as the student, but top honours have to go to Kelly Nash, who played the therapist to an absolute turn, as well as ducking out momentarily to play Rhonda’s mother; rarely have I seen a more convincing portrayal of good counselling (including from actual counsellors at work) in a performance which only improved as the character became more complex.

To be fair and even-handed in my gushing: Nash’s ring-in as the voice of Rhonda’s children was a little excruciating. It’s always going to be difficult to create a theatrical work involving children, much less five year olds: Rhonda is in Therapy opts for invisible children and a voiceover, with middling success. Speaking of excruciating, the work also made possibly a little too much use of theatrically faked sex; while it was interesting as a character plotline, at length it became a mite silly.)

Nevertheless, this is a gripping, touching, and dramatic piece of theatre, and if the heavy subject matter isn’t too rich for your blood, it’s a chewy and interesting bit of food for thought.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Hoy Polloy and Baggage Productions present
Rhonda is in Therapy
Written by Bridgette Burton
Directed by Wayne Pearn
Dramaturge: Julian Meyrick
Set and costume design: Kat Chan
Lighting design: Richard Vabre
Sound design: Tim Bright
Stage manager: Lindon Blakey
Performed by Louise Crawford, Ben Grant, Jamieson Caldwell and Kelly Nash

fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne
September 7 – 23

About the author

Nicole Eckersley is a Melbourne based writer, editor and reviewer.