Review of May 9 performance by Elise Lawrence.
The Drawer Productions placed the audience at the heart of an unravelling family mystery with their unsettling immersive theatre piece SHELTER.
I saw SHELTER on Mother’s Day and it turned out to be an appropriate choice with its focus on mother-daughter relationships and themes of legacy, intergenerational trauma, history’s tendency to repeat itself, and the things that we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from the people who raise us.
Directed by Indiah Morris and produced by Scarlett Hughes, with assistant direction by Roisin Wallace-Nash, SHELTER begins with Sophia Chapman (played by Keely Woods), who has inherited a bunker in her mother’s will. The audience joined Sophia as she opened and explored the bunker, a place frozen in time and filled with secrets and answers about the mother she resented, the grandparents she never knew, and the family history she was never told.
Inside the bunker, the audience was shown three generations of Chapmans overlaid on the performance space – Penny Chapman (Bridget Webb) and Daniel Chapman (Hadyn Imhoff) argued about how to raise their children Mandy (Lola Bond) and Miles (Oscar O’Brien) as Sophia flipped through the bookshelves and rifled through her grandmother’s desk. Miles had no interest in life outside the bunker – if there was anything there at all – but Mandy dreamed of the moor her father had told her stories about. The entire cast delivered a gripping and emotionally committed performance, and I was almost brought to tears by Sophia’s final declarations to the memory of her mother.
The performance space at Farrier Bar was set up with great care and attention to detail. The use of a cassette tape and VHS player helped to place the work in time, but the ages of the characters, particularly Mandy and Miles, were not always clear.
I didn’t feel that the secret at the heart of this work was fully and satisfactorily resolved, and a few key questions were left unanswered, especially in relation to the circumstances of Penny Chapman’s death and the fate of Miles. Questions of health were also raised, as there was no mention of the children being impacted by (presumably) years without sunlight or fresh air.
As an audience, we were allowed and encouraged to explore the set – to open the drawers and cupboards, examine the children’s artwork on the walls, flick through the family’s personal papers and photographs. In immersive works like this, I sometimes find it difficult to know where to stand or where to look next, but SHELTER used music to cue and transition between scenes, and the timing and layering of the action was excellent.
The Drawer Productions will present SHELTER at Farrier Bar, Fortitude Valley, from May 6-9. Ticketing and further information is available on the event page.