Review - Like a Fishbone

By Anthony Weigh

Bush Theatre

Running until 10 July 2010

Somewhere, in a remote green valley, a terrible massacre of children has taken place in a small school-house. A leading architect has been hired to create a memorial to the victims of this tragedy. She has been briefed by the project board and decided that rather than a traditional monument, a careful and exact preservation of the site would best serve the community.
However, on the evening of the public presentation of her model town, the architect is confronted by a blind woman, the mother of one of the victims, and is forced to revaluate both her work and her own mothering instincts.

This is a duel of words and ideas. The two women spar over whether the architect should have created a monument or a memorial to the dead. Deborah Findlay’s complacent architect is sure she is doing the right thing. Sarah Smart’s impassioned mother is convinced that she is not, and wants to see the school razed to the ground. This leads to a heated argument about what it means to memorialise the dead, what it means to be a mother and what it means to have faith and to have none. But all we are ever really told is that the decimated community is a religious one and that the tragedy is the result of “a man with a grievance and a gun.”

The architect employs the language of her profession and talks of stakeholders, surveys, engineers, the ‘process of the design’, whereas the mother is motivated by her grief, faith and belief that she is acting on the wishes of her dead daughter. We never learn their names. They both hold extreme positions and as a consequence neither woman truly engages our sympathy.

This is perhaps where Australian playwright Anthony Weigh falls down. In his examination of religious faith, reason, grief and remembrance, there are no winning arguments. The best lines come, unexpectedly, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s eager to please intern who actually contradicts the mentor she adores when she concludes “a building is, first and foremost, an expression of the truth of its purpose…A building is not an idea it’s a utensil.”

There are flashes of brilliance. But the fact that the play is so static, and the drama relies heavily on a verbal debate, suggests to me that it might be better suited to radio. Still, Lucy Osborne's set is terrific. We enter through a closed door into an architect's office complete with low ceilings and skylight and with rain streaming down the windows. We are ranged on three sides, uneasy spectators at an ugly slanging match. Josie Rourke directs with her usual verve and the cast gives its all.

First published in Theatreworld Internet Magazine