Every Lovely Terrible Thing (Theatre Works) – theatre review

Chaos and trauma are at play in Every Lovely Terrible Thing. A highly dysfunctional family implodes and picks apart its innards. They are the Colemans who live a rundown weatherboard house on the outskirts of a country town.

Photos by Pia Johnson

Cooper, the unemployed, gay, clothing designer grandson in his early 20s, likes dressing in women’s attire and flouncing about. He lives with widowed matriarch Jerica because he can’t stand his parents. Jerica’s now dead husband was explosive and physically abusive, a drinker and a gambler. She is now back on the dating scene and getting together with an old classmate who has shown interest in her.

Jerica and hubby ran a pub, which their conservative son Charles – who is now running for council – took over after his father died. Incidentally, he used to go rabbit hunting with his dad. Charles effectively pushed his mother out of the business before she was ready to leave. Charles has a strained relationship with his childcare worker wife, Phoebe.

He also has an estranged twin sister Brit, who hasn’t been around for a decade. Now living in Sydney, she ventures back to the family home with big news and carrying a dark secret. She immediately clashes with her mother, who wants nothing to do with her. She has been secretly texting her nephew, who has expressed an interest in moving to Sydney, much to her grandmother and father’s displeasure.

But that is before Cooper meets and falls for tradie Lachie, whom his grandmother employed to address her home’s deteriorating electrics. There are frequent power outages. The sparks (pun fully intended) between Cooper and Lachie fly, but the road ahead isn’t smooth sailing.

It took me a while to work out who was who and where they fitted in to the bigger picture in Every Lovely Terrible Thing. That is because my rule of thumb before entering a theatre is to never read about the play I am about to see first. In other words, I go in cold. Having said that, once I learned the lie of the land and where they fitted into the bigger picture I was invested in the journey. My word, I was!

I appreciated the intractable mess and the ensuing drama it brought. So too the volatility and sensitivity in the cast’s performances.  I applaud the larger-than-life characterisations translated from Adam Fawcett’s incendiary script. As a “survivor”, Fawlett has drawn upon heartfelt experience to create a work that screams authenticity. As an audience member, I can readily say that the four years’ hard labour it to reach realisation has been worth it.

With a linear narrative structure, the production also features a number of stark and memorable dream scenarios, involving a giant rabbit and a cowboy. The sprawling set (the work of Harry Gill) – the family home writ large, with its surfeit of lamps – is evocative. Directed by Justin Nott, Every Lovely Terrible Thing leaves an indelible imprint.

Two hours plus a 20-minute-interval, it is playing at Theatre Works until 16th March, 2024.

Alex First

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