On an almost blank stage, Patrick Livesey dips in and out of personalities. With great poise and gentle transformations, they become their sister, their step-dad, their mum’s friends and family. But in Naomi, Livesey never embodies themselves.
This is the key to the work’s success. Created and performed by Livesey and directed by Bronwen Coleman, Naomi tells a cumulative story about Livesey’s mum. Through the verbatim recollections and insights of people who loved her, a life is sketched out. Eventually, so is a death. Naomi died by suicide and the ripples of the event seem to lodge, vibrating, into the centre of every character depicted on stage.
Unavoidably, this is a deeply personal story for Livesey. Removing their perspective feels initially counter-intuitive, but it’s this decision that creates space for the audience to enter the story. By relying on the quotes of others, Livesey invites viewers to walk alongside them on a quest for understanding.
For different creators, this multi-character solo show could be fraught in other ways. There’s a temptation to act big to help the audience follow from one character to the next. Coleman and Livesey, helped by the restrained hand of lighting designer Matt Ralph, instead employ simple stage craft. Each character has their own territory on stage and Livesey transitions by shifting from one spot to another. This frees them to use their power as an actor for pathos and authenticity, which pour off the stage, enveloping the room in an atmosphere where comedy and tragedy make sense alongside each other.
This is Naomi’s premiere season, and while the show’s fundamentals are astonishingly well resolved, not all of its elements are completely refined. The set design is minimal – a floating triangle outlined by a string of lights hovers and shifts as the lighting states change, creating a neat metaphor for the fuzziness of perception. Inside the triangle is a sheet of chicken wire, onto which Livesey occasionally pins items related to Naomi. These interludes, along with elements of the soundscape – which is beautiful but sometimes overburdened – distract from, rather than add to, the emotion of the narrative.
These are small issues, and they quickly fade from audience memory. What remains is a sophisticated exploration of the ambiguity of relationships, the consequences of mental health stigma, and the grim reality of suburban Australian life. Through all of these complications, as the show’s tagline promises, there shines the glow of a story about love.
Naomi is showing in The Studio at Holden Street Theatres until March 20 as part of Adelaide Fringe.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact SA Health Mental Health Triage Service on 13 14 65, or if in need of crisis support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. A comprehensive directory of mental health services is available here.
Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.