Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Everything Must Go

By Eliza Burke

Image courtesy of Theatre Royal

Rachel Leary’s Everything Must Go is a very funny and at times very touching monologue set at a garage sale in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. The sole character, Nancy Browne, is selling off a motley collection of belongings from the family home – a toilet-roll doll, a tyre swan, a deer’s head with one eye –you know the sort of things! – as well as a few not so familiar items like a jar of goat poo and two bickering pet bricks. She is moving out of the valley where she has always lived pending the multi-million dollar suburban development of ‘Perfect Ponds’.

On the surface Everything Must Go is a hilarious series of skits based around the various objects on sale and Nancy’s observations about the nature of life in the valley and the people who live there. But as the play progresses, deeper meanings emerge about loss, change and self-survival creating a unique fusion of comedic and dramatic theatre and a raw poignancy that stays with you long after Nancy has left the stage.
Leary has performed Everything Must Go in a number of different ways, either as the fully-fledged monologue reviewed here (which premiered at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in 2011) or as separate skits around Australia’s comedy circuits. Part of the thrill of Everything Must Go is the sense that it, just like Nancy, is adaptable and can appeal to a broad range of audiences working on many dramatic levels. Although often classed as comedy, Leary’s performance moves across the boundaries of comedy and drama several times throughout the play and she has the ability to make her audience laugh and cry; sometimes at the same time.

Everything Must Go is essentially a character piece that derives its power not just from the comedy, but from Nancy’s own whimsical perspectives on both the light and darker sides of life.

The garage sale is the perfect setting for exploring these tensions between light and dark. Memory and nostalgia mingle with the need to move on and let go as Nancy reflects on the stories attached to the items on sale and prices things according to her attachment to them rather than their monetary value.  The objects work as catalysts for Nancy’s narrative. She offers funny insights on such things as saying ‘hold your horses’ or the dolls called Phillip that live in the old Phillips lightbulb box. Then there are more serious reflections on her own experiences of loss and change. The connections Nancy makes between her emotional and material worlds are quirky and endearing, and there is a vulnerability to her that underpins her comic persona. Like the objects for sale, there is something of life’s fragility in her; a question about the meaning and value of things and of our place in the world.  

But Nancy is not one to dwell, and the warmth of Leary’s engagement with her audience and her impeccable timing, ensures we feel for Nancy as much as we laugh at her funny projects, like giving cotton wool balls ‘a go at being clouds’ or playing ‘what am I?’ with the audience. There is something of the Sharon Strzelecki appeal about her – a vulnerable character who we laugh at sometimes when we feel perhaps we shouldn’t. Sometimes this can be unsettling for the audience, especially in the latter half of the play when the tone and content darkens and the script becomes more serious. There is potential for these latter scenes to upset the comedy/drama balance and I wondered whether some of this more serious content might not have been flagged earlier on or fragmented a little to keep the balance that is so beautifully handled in the first half.

Everything Must Go is not conventional comedy – it is a complex take on vulnerability and change with humour to boot. Leary is funded to tour the show through regional Victoria in 2013 so if you get to see Nancy in her rabbit fur bonnet with its lucky foot, do! This is a fantastic hour of fresh and original theatre.

Written and Performed by Rachel Leary

Dir. Damien Callinan.

Backspace Hobart November 7-11, 2012

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