Like Sex and the City, Tiddas is a frank and warm look at female friendship. Far from the hustle and bustle of New York City, however, the story is set under the blooming jacarandas of 2022 Brisbane, which makes its world premiere as part of this year’s Brisbane Festival, especially appropriate.
The page-to-stage adaptation of playwright Anita Heiss’s best-selling novel tells the story of five old high school friends reunited to form a book club, called vixens, an acronym of their first names. We learn that the women have been best friends for decades, now meeting once a month to talk about books, life, love and more. Their candid conversations become a springboard for reflection on their differing journeys towards their 40s and the desire for the energy of their youth.
Recently divorced Veronica (Anna McMahon), the organiser of the group, just wants to be happy again. Career focused Izzy (Phoebe Grainer) is a sharp contrast to Xanthe (Shakira Clanton), who is desperate for a baby and to settle down in a Queenslander. Fiercely single Ellen (Chenoa Deemal) loves her independence, while successful author Nadine (Louise Brehmer) appears to be living the dream.
There is much with which audience members of a certain similar age can identify. While initially you might yourself identifying with one character (for me it was Post-it note prepared Veronica), as their stories unfold this shifts to the thought that perhaps there is a part of each vixen within each of us.
What elevates the piece is the integration of commentary and contemplation of bigger issues stemming from the social political climate of the time. Discussion about reconciliation and identity arises from the women’s conversations about and consideration of possible books to read. Conflict emerges from this, along with secrets that exist despite the longevity of their friendships.
Men feature within the women’s story (in addition to Roxanne McDonald’s appearance in a couple of small roles, Sean Dow jumps in and out of playing all male roles). Through the women’s support of each other through differing world views, we are shown the importance of sharing stories.
While all actors are impressive in their commitment to such distinct characters, comic relief comes primarily from Demmal as the straight talking Ellen. She also brings some softness to the reasoning behind her character’s survival. Clanton also gives a standout performance as Xanthe, bringing nuance and sensitivity to the extremes of her character’s moving emotional journey.
These are characters that are believable and authentic, strong individually, but stronger together, which befits the play’s title. (Tiddas is, as the program reminds us, a shared Aboriginal word for sisters, not just by blood, but as created by the strong bonds of friendship and love over years of lived experience and travelled journeys). While sometimes brutal, under Nadine McDonald-Dowd balanced direction, Tiddas is ultimately a celebration of the universal language of sisterhood, easy to watch and enjoy.
It is playing at The Roundhouse Theatre until 24th September, 2022.