Theatre review: Pear-Shaped, Theatre Works

Wholly inventive and deliciously absurd, this story about sisterhood, eating disorders and the creative process packs a punch.

There aren’t enough stories about sisters, in my opinion. That special, sacred battleground of envy, rivalry and abject hatred, blended and balanced by uncompromising, complete, seemingly impossible and inextricable love. It takes a sister to understand it and it takes a sister to write it – and in Pear-Shaped, magnificently, we have a pair of startlingly talented creatives weaving the tale.

For this new theatre work by Melbourne independent company Rogue Projects, in collaboration with St Kilda’s Theatre Works, writer/director Miranda Middleton and performer/writer Ziggy Resnick have crafted something wild and obscene, magical and marvellous – and wholly unmissable. 

The story is of two sisters: Frankie (Ziggy Resnick) and Kayla (Luisa Scrofani). Frankie is a design student struggling with a project to bring to life the world of Alice in Wonderland, with a frenetic director who leaves her frustratingly obscure voice messages. She looks for inspiration in a box of dress-ups she and her sister used to play with, setting up a framing narrative that connects their childhood memories to the stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Kayla becomes Alice and Frankie, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, the Cheshire Cat and other characters.

We see the sisters, as kids, playing and, as adolescents, arguing. We see the birth of Kayla’s eating disorder in her obsession with thinness, which grows into a well-developed pattern of lying to avoid eating. In Wonderland, of course, Alice also changes size, growing and shrinking, as she drinks the ‘drink me’ potion, eats the ‘eat me’ cake.  

I last saw Middleton’s work when she directed Lemon Tree on Dreg Street at Theatre Works earlier this year, also a winner. Here, in her role as co-writer and director of Pear-Shaped, it’s clear she is a writer/director with a distinct and sparky contemporary voice – wired into the zeitgeist of concerns (particularly for young people) of today, but with a knack for the dramedy – cleaving the heart-tugging and the hilarious.  

Let’s talk nuts and bolts: the acting is simply superb. Comedic and connected – both Resnick as Frankie and Scrofani as sister Kayla are completely convincing: teasing, challenging, supporting, hating, loving. Both actors also play additional roles, in Resnick’s case, a series of characters from Wonderland; in Scrofani’s, she plays other (important and meaty) roles as the sisters’ mother, their Jewish grandmother-or-aunt (I couldn’t quite work out the connection) Savta, and as Alice.

The other brilliant elements of the show, which tie the worlds together, are the production, lighting and sound designs, which work hand-in-glove to bring to life Wonderland. Like the flash of a camera, the transitions are enabled by richly-hued, wild and wonderful animated projections across the full open stage, the sound design and the technically flawless shifts from the mic’d up actors’ normal-world speaking voices to the booming, resonant, down-the-rabbit-hole voices of the glowingly furious Red Queen or whimsically-riddling Cheshire Cat. 

The stage is a fully-constructed, offset, open square room, painted with light-blue geometric diamond patterning across the white floor and both walls. Gold window frames in different sizes adorn the set – becoming opening doors and windows, allowing passage between worlds in curiouser and curiouser ways, often providing added opportunity for humour. Frankie’s constantly-phoning mother appears in one, her coffee order appearing through another, handed to her by a white-rabbit-looking gloved hand.

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While the story of a creative with a creative block is nothing new, and likewise the framing device of a protagonist’s intended work of adaptation becoming part of the work itself (I was reminded of the 2002 film directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation) the truth is that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has a vast quantity of material to mine in a story about sisterhood and madness. And in the hands of these two remarkable actors, with all the theatrical elements working together so beautifully, the story feels fresh and lively – the sinews of sisterly tension strung tightly across the blood-thick dual-world battleground, the razor-sharp dialogue cutting to the bone.

Pear-shaped, Theatre Works and Rogue Projects

Writers: Miranda Middleton and Ziggy Resnick
Director: Miranda Middleton
Produced by: Robbi James, Erica Lovell, Talia Meyerowtiz-Katz
Production design by: Grace Deacon
Composer and Sound Design by: Oliver Beard
Lighting and Video Design: Aron Murray

Dramaturg: Brittanie Shipway
Stage Manager: Gin Rosse
Tech operator: Tim Dennis
Assistant Stage Manager: Cameron Steens
Design Assistant: Natalie Petrellis
Voice coach: Laura Farrell
Production images: Angel Leggas

Cast:  Ziggy Resnick, Luisa Scrofani

Pear-Shaped will be performed until 15 April.

Kate Mulqueen is an actor, writer, musician and theatre-maker based in Naarm (Melbourne). Instagram: @picklingspirits Facebook: @katemulq Twitter: @katemulqueen