Girl at the bottom of the well

by | Jun 14, 2024

By Darby Turnbull

In a growing cannon of innovative trans theatre comes Henry Kelly’s Girl at the bottom of a well now playing at La Mama’s courthouse. In his writers note Kelly talks about his vision for other performers to take on his material but it’s to our great privilege that the debut season features the creator himself with his gripping, unique inhabitation of his text.

Kelly’s a theatre practitioner building a steady following within the queer, art community; as displayed by the warm, appreciative audience response. His writing is so delectably, unambiguously queer in structure and presentation and whilst I think those who exist outside of that parameter would find enjoyment from this piece with some slight adjustment but it’s a delightful experience to engage with a piece of theatre that speaks to us not about us. His absurd, lyrical text takes the form of a poem, a fable interspersed with some cutting, meta stand up. Kelly discusses how this piece emerged from the depths of a deep depression; and his work is a moving exploration of the abstract reflections that despair can illuminate. Depression can be a liar or a trickster, but it can also be a mirror that exposes something painful but authentic. Kelly’s text begins with a story of a ‘girl’ cut off from the world; a well; isolated and telling stories; macabre, epic heroes’ journeys that reveal potent and raw insights into gender dysphoria and the need to change, to evolve, to vanquish the obstacles but also how a person can retreat into themselves. Kelly is a natural storyteller; mischievous and wry with a strong command over the space and the tale he’s telling whilst also displaying the terror and pain of disclosure and truth telling.

George Lazaris’ sensuous, empathetic direction is an ideal companion for the primal emotions and essential humour of the text. The stage is carpeted with dirt and Kelly really embraces an animalistic style of performance free of vanity or comfort in addition to bringing the audiences senses immediately to the level of the performance and the invitation to enter a surreal, dreamlike space. The design elements eloquently facilitate conscious introspection; Gabriel Bethune’s superb lighting and projection design create some stunning, kaleidoscopic images and Beau Esposito’s sound design (as usual) gets under the skin with subtle melancholy.

Girl at the bottom of the well is a great example of La Mama’s dedication (and essential) mission to platform experimental and unique theatre makers. Henry Kelly does explore within the piece his own place within the arts industry and the frustration of having to generate your own work to be seen; on the strength of this and previous work Kelly is a strong and exciting creative presence who has the presence, skill and imagination to fit into a myriad of styles. It’s a bleak reflection of the current state of our arts industry that so many talents are overlooked let alone make a living from their art.

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