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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Confessions
Lyttelton Theatre     Autumn 2023

Alexander Zeldinís play The Confessions lets us glimpse one womanís life across eighty years, taking us from her early decades in Australia to her later years in Europe.

It is based on the authorís numerous interviews with his mother and other older women. The point of view is the central character Alice who, in her older self played by Amelda Brown, opens the show standing before the curtain, stage front with house lights still blazing, to tell us she 'isnít interesting.'

The show then takes us chronologically through her life from her school days failing to achieve the grades she needs for university and a cold marriage to her naval boyfriend Graham (Joe Bannister) that has been encouraged by her mother.

After all, women canít be expected to live independently of men. Her father wants more for his daughter but seems a passive, defeated man.

Walking out on Graham, determined to continue in education, the younger Alice (Eryn Jean Norvill) is inspired by Joss (Jerry Killick) lecturing about poetry being a revolutionary act that can make you alive and conscious of injustice. Later, she becomes one of his lovers.

Although she is stimulated by the bohemian company in Melbourne of the 1960s where she is an art historian, a sexual assault by another academic prompts her to leave for Europe.

There she marries for the second time and has two children, one of whom, a teenage version of Zeldin, occasionally sits with the older Alice reflecting on events.

It is a warm watchable performance. Yet the memoir is always difficult to translate to the stage. Scenes flit past too quickly for us to engage with any of the issues from the abuse of women to the passing reference to the Vietnam War.

The only scene with any dramatic tension is the silent stage later in the play in Melbourne when visiting an artist with Perry, Alice exits for the bathroom.

There is little depth or complexity to any of the characters apart from Alice, and even with her, we see an unfolding history rather than a developing individual.

Some, such as the predatory sexist Perry (Joe Bannister), are one-dimensional. Among them is the slightly improbable figure of the forever grumpy feminist Eva (Pamela Rabe), who announces to a gathering that she is 'taking my beer for a shit.'

When Alice gets a divorce Eva tells her 'It must feel good to stop fucking a murderer.'

This is a gentle, ambitious play, that always has an eye for the hope in any difficult situation. It has been performed in Vienna, Athens, Barcelona and Avignon and will continue after its National Theatre run to tour into Spring 2024.

Keith McKenna

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Review of  The Confessions - National Theatre 2023

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