Writer: Thomas Weatherall
Director: Deborah Brown
Belvoir Upstairs Theatre
January 14–29, 2023
Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Award-winner in 2022, Thomas Weatherall takes to the main stage of the Belvoir with Blue as part of the 2023 Sydney Festival. In what is a world premiere, Weatherall, also acclaimed for his role in Netflix’s Heartbreak High, makes his debut as writer and stage actor performing a poignant and uplifting monologue about coming of age and coming to terms with sorrow.
We meet 20-year-old Mark, an aspiring writer, when he has moved out of home for the first time, and he is excited, expectant and unsure. As Mark bounces into the uncluttered stage space mid-thought Weatherall brings the audience with him, quickly establishing the right note of intimacy between actor and audience crucial to the success of a monologue. He admits reluctantly that he always tended to be “depressed”, adding that his mother had seemed to look at him in a reserved way, unlike the cheerful way she looked at his brother John. With a humorous shrug – his self-deprecation makes him likeable – he says he did not blame her.
Much of Mark’s exploratory thoughts are about his family, his love for and dependence on his brother John, the enigma of his father and most importantly his connection with his mother. Although his mother urged him to leave home – we assume she saw he needed to break with the past – she maintained the connection by writing letters. The love of writing had already established the bond between Mark and his mother and was to create a bond between Mark and his new flatmate Effie.
Mark’s father’s comment that his mother wrote what she couldn’t say directly reflects his resentment of her interior life. As Weatherall’s monologue demonstrates, writing is the means through which many find, and give, meaning to the brutal aspects of existence but is also the means through which the richness and beauty of living can be fully explored. The ebb and flow of both is wonderfully evoked in the fabulous backdrop made of white polystyrene panels moulded into the shape of a wave and across which a video of one wave receding as the following wave flows to shore is projected.
Weatherall is a strong performer, moving with grace and confidence, speaking as if naturally, and holding the audience from beginning to end. While the monologue is well structured and emotionally tuned, “moments” need to be always relevant. While Mark’s enactment of asphyxiating gradually is a powerful and disturbing evocation of being overwhelmed by depression, the “moment” in which he compares the phases of romantic love to a burning house, while receiving chuckles, didn’t really fit.
Congratulations must go to Jacob Nash for the unbelievable beauty and cleverness of the backdrop. The uninterrupted white sweep of the panels create the sense of an intimate interiority but also the projection of many images of the sea in its moods and metaphors – tranquil or dangerous, overwhelming or cleansing – enriches the performance.