“You’re doing really well … I love you so much,” Simon tells his partner Emily as Naked & Screaming opens to a familiar birth scene scenario – ironic, given the story that will unfold in the following 80 minutes that marks La Boite Theatre’s return. Naked and Screaming may well describe how their baby Dylan entered the world, but it is also a fitting account of how new parents Emily (Emily Burton) and Simon (Jackson McGovern) end up experiencing their first year of parenthood. They are emotionally exposed and silently screaming for help. Their frank and difficult conversations about the imbalance of their new roles and the consequences of failing to meet expectations transform.
The world premiere of the new Australian family tragedy from award-winning playwright Mark Rogers features dynamic direction by Sanja Simic. It starts snappily, with a quick move from Emily’s labour to the couple leaving hospital and facing the reality of responsibilities beyond. The early scenes are very funny in the familiarity of their domesticity and the couple’s clueless interactions with the invisible baby Dylan.
Things move fast and as the pair’s passive aggressive demeanour deteriorates to outright snipes at each other. It is clear the new parents are struggling. When Simon heads overseas on a three-week work trip, we watch Emily’s frustration, initially through humour and then things shift. The script ensures that the laughs subtly recede as it is made clear that the sleep-deprived new mother is barely coping. Then an incident occurs that catalyses an unravelling of the couple’s relationship. It goes beyond their new parent dilemmas about losing a sense of self into a new realm of mistrust and resentment.
The fact that this is a two-hander means there is nowhere to hide, allowing the audience to fully appreciate the performers’ detailed approaches to the physicality and interaction with their not-really-there baby. This is made all the more impressive by their effortless quick shifts from scene to scene and the associated, contrasting tones and emotions. And while it may take a moment to adjust to the invisibility of baby Dylan, this is soon understandable as this is a story about the dramatic twists and turns of the couple’s relationship.
Staging is effective in its simplicity. La Boite’s stage is in-the-round. A giant mobile casts a hand over the domestic setting that set and costume designer Chloe Reeves has created. Ben Hughes’ lighting design works with Guy Webster’s soundscape to chronicle passages of time and illuminate the couple’s most honest conversation.
While the play’s events occur in Queensland, its universal themes means that its location is of minor significance. This is a work that should resonate widely, not only with parents, but with anyone who has navigated the complexity that comes from intimate relationship connections. The fly-on-the-wall audience experience makes the dramatic thriller all the more compelling. It results in some audible gasps from the searing imagery of the final scene. There is much to think about at show’s end.
Naked & Screaming is on at La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre until 28th February, 2021.