Almighty Sometimes

by | Apr 22, 2024

By Adam Rafferty

Winner of the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Prize for Drama, Kendall Feaver’s excellent Almighty Sometimes feels to have taken too long to reach the Melbourne stage, yet the scheduling of its launch here this week has become eerily timely.

The story focuses on the lives of eighteen-year-old Anna (Max McKenna), who suffers from an unnamed mental health disorder, and her ever-patient and loving mother Renee (Nadine Garner). Diagnosed and medicated since the age of eight, Anna is now of an age where she needs to move on from her paediatric specialist psychiatrist, and as an adult, is also able to legally make her own decisions about her psychiatric care and medication.

Considering the very recent events in Sydney concerning the actions of a potentially unmedicated sufferer of schizophrenia, this production has the potential to trigger some deep feelings in its audiences. So, it’s important to note, without spoiling the plot, that Feaver’s story does not affirm the idea of a mental health patient being able to safely make their own decisions about care and treatment. This play is topical but isn’t controversial.

However, this is a powerful story that deftly demonstrates the difficulties of growing up with, and parenting, a child with a mental health issue – in Anna’s case something like bipolar disorder.

As a mother, Renee has a natural instinct to protect her child from the potential dangers her daughter’s condition might bring, but things become tricky when Anna discovers her writings from when she was a pre-diagnosed child. Filled with exceptional stories, written with such fantastic insight and intelligence to make adult authors envious of her prose. Anna is boggled that she was once capable of such things. Since going into treatment at the age of eight she hasn’t shown such skill, and she wonders if her medication is potentially limiting her greatness.

Her psychiatrist Vivienne (Louisa Mignone) tries to explain the risks of changing her medication but is undermined by her own published writings about Anna’s childhood condition – calling her by a pseudonym – which now discovered, leave the young woman distrusting of both her health provider and her mother, who gave permission for the book.

A shift to self-determination also puts Anna’s newly formed relationship with her sweetly caring boyfriend, apprentice locksmith Oliver (Karl Richmond), under increasing pressure. Renee grips onto Oliver for help with guiding Anna, but the burden is a lot for a fresh romance to bear.

This is all heavy stuff, but Feaver’s excellent grasp of humour and pathos provides a delicately balanced dialogue that is both empathetic and eminently recognisable. Her characters aren’t overly theatrical – nor overplayed under the deft direction of Hannah Goodwin – creating a reality and believability that transcends the fourth wall.

Anna’s rollercoaster of emotions and wild swings between emotional states provide McKenna with an opportunity – no doubt, a daunting one – to truly demonstrate the breadth of their acting skills and they more than admirably grasp the nettle. This is acting of the finest calibre.

Despite the focus on Anna’s condition, this is an ensemble piece and the rest of the cast also step up to the measure of their roles. Garner beautifully conveys the love and pain of a mother determined to do what’s right for her child, despite what it might cost. Richmond shines light on the difficult position friends and partners can be put in, when mental health conditions change the landscape of a relationship. Mignone gives balance to the difficult path tread by the practitioners who are duty bound to both care for, and disassociate from, their patients.

Jacob Battista’s excellent set design evolves in many fascinating ways, made up of several wall components, set inside a frame, that pivot freely from a mid-point. Goodwin has Anna in command of the settings when she is unmedicated and unable to control them when she is not. Amelia Lever-Davidson adds further depth to the setting with highly defined lighting design while the audio landscape created by Kelly Ryall is also in perfect harmony with the story.

This is a near perfect production of a beautifully written play that is not only important in its content but deeply engaging in its story telling too.

 

The Almighty Sometimes is now playing at the Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 18th May.

For more details and tickets: https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/whats-on/season-2024/the-almighty-sometimes/

Images: Pia Johnson

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