Hello Stranger is a thought-provoking show about memory, loss, and love; a funny, sad, educational, clever, and thought-provoking work of immersive theatre.
The 2022 Anywhere Festival production of Hello Stranger worked so very well on many levels—literally, and metaphorically. The building undercroft is the setting for the memorable Year 11 Halloween party, hosted by Brad (Patrick Galen-Mules) while Brad’s parents are away. Upstairs, the audience follow two couples who are living with dementia: Big and Small (Matias Nuñez and Indiah Morris), and Kip and Dot Potts (Tegan Braithwaite and Patrick Galen-Mules). As the upstairs stories captivate the audience, the pulsating music from the disco keeps drawing everyone back to the undercroft, and to the repeated portrayal of different aspects of ‘that moment’ at the party (Zombie and Nurse, performed by Molly Walker and Teah Peters).
The challenges of living with dementia are portrayed with honesty and joy, but the show also goes to the heart of the sheer tragedy of diseases that cause the loss of memory and self. The audience is given insights into the struggles and fears of sufferers, and the challenges faced by partners who want to halt the apparently inevitable decline and ‘loss’ of their loved one.
In Hello Stranger, the two couples begin by adopting different ‘management’ strategies: from explanation and contradiction (rejected by Small, as this only acts as a continuing reminder of the diagnosis), through to trying to live with the situation, and techniques that help with the brief recapture of special memories. Dot’s memories are stimulated by the use of a special box of family treasures, and the re-telling of highlights from decades past. Dot and Kip work their way through a ‘bucket list’ of events, creating moments of joy and celebrating key memories from their life partnership before they decide ‘it’s time’ to move into an old people’s home. Particularly special moments portrayed by Braithwaite and Galen-Mules included the bathroom wedding, world travels, and the poignant moments looking at the stars. There wasn’t a dry-eye in the house for Galen-Mules’s memorial speech.
Big and Small’s story has moments of joy and optimism but, for me, theirs was the saddest decline. The ‘bugs mate for life’ bedroom scene (Nuñez and Morris) was genuine tragi-comedy: funny for the bright re-telling of a TV show, and incredibly sad at the realisation that it is not always possible to continue to live together in a situation where a sufferer (and carer) need safety and support.
Dementia is ‘a broad term used to describe a loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and physical functioning.’ Sadly, as highlighted by Dementia Australia, over 2 million Australians are directly affected by Dementia (as family/carers, or as people living with dementia); dementia is the second leading cause of death for Australians, and is the leading cause of death for women. Although dementia is often associated with ageing, there is increasing awareness of the early onset of dementia in younger people. Not quite what you might have expected to read when looking for a review of a successful Anywhere Festival show?
Hello Stranger is a great piece of theatre because it provokes discussions about dementia care, and the support of sufferers and carers. For me, Hello Stranger also encourages the audience to think about memory and self, and memory and materiality. Ada Lukin’s placing of the work in the House Conspiracy building works so well, as the Queenslander house becomes a prompt to memories of events and occasions—and also when taking us ‘inside’ Small’s frightening experience of loss of memory and self.
Congratulations to the Director (Ada Lukin), the cast, and to all involved in this exceptional show. The Anywhere Festival run has already sold-out (even with extra shows being added to the run), and I am not surprised. I just hope that audiences have the opportunity to experience Hello Stranger again—and in particular to experience Indiah Morris’s performance, where the tragic journey from lover to patient was portrayed with a raw honesty and poignancy.
Verdict: A funny, sad, educational, clever, and thought-provoking work of immersive theatre.
Audience information: Some smoke haze, limited coarse language and simulated violence. References to illness and death (The Drawer Productions acknowledge the help of Alzheimer’s Queensland). The production takes place within a Queenslander House, with the audience following the action around the building (including using the outside staircase). Mask-wearing requested, and I suggest wet weather clothing! Prior consultation recommended for accessibility options. Hello Stranger (only seven Anywhere Festival performances, 14-20 May, 2022), at House Conspiracy, 42 Mollison St, South Brisbane. Tickets $35. 75 minutes.
The reviewer attended the Friday 13 May (4pm) performance.