Thursday, July 25, 2024

Tiddas

Tiddas
Writer: Anita Heiss
Co-directors:  Nadine McDonald-Dowd, Roxanne McDonald
Belvoir Street Theatre
January 12-28, 2024

The play is an adaptation of Anita Heiss’ much-loved novel and now, as a part of Sydney Festival’s Blak Out program, it is Sydney’s turn to enjoy this funny, heartwarming theatrical treat.

On Opening Night, the part of Nadine, normally played by Louise Brehmer, was valiantly read off-book by the director, Nadine McDonald-Dowd, due to the actor being affected by Covid.

The word “tiddas” is an Aboriginal word meaning sisters, or sisterhood, and relates to the bond between sisters or close female friends. Three of the friends are Aboriginal, two are non-indigenous and all have the same concerns about social justice, indigenous affairs and attending rallies. They meet at their monthly book club to discuss these matters – however, their chat soon digresses – they are also re-evaluating their life choices as they approach their forties.

All have followed different paths – Izzy (Lara Croydon), a Wiradjuri woman, works in media and is on the cusp of becoming an Australian Oprah when she falls pregnant. Xanthe (Jade Lomas-Ronan), on the other hand, has been struggling to conceive and would happily give up her job in an Aboriginal community organisation to become a mother. Veronica (Anna McMahon) married straight after leaving school. Ellen (Perry Mooney) works as a funeral celebrant for the Aboriginal community and is thus far determinedly single. Her character also has the best comedic lines – fun, witty, sometimes raunchy. Nadine (usually played by Louise Behmer) is the celebrity of the group, having become a wealthy and successful author and is, wine glass in hand, constantly opening a fresh bottle of wine, foreshadowing her descent into alcoholism.

In the grief after the death of a beloved Aunty they enter a more revelatory phase in their relationships. Izzy has been reluctant to admit her pregnancy to her mother, but the mother guesses anyway. In breaking the news to the group, she worries about the effect of her news on the infertile Xanthe, but her sister expresses joy over Izzy’s news, despite her own personal sadness. Next, it’s Nadine who tests the strength of the sisterhood fabric – her alcoholism has become an embarrassment to them, and they urge her to attend AA meetings. She finally agrees to attend online.

Director Nadine McDonald-Dowd (with co-director Roxanne McDonald) skilfully allows each actor free rein in the development of their character. Differentiating their roles is assisted by the designer’s (Zoe Rouse) astute costuming – the colours are light and summery as befits Brisbane living, but with touches of varying style.

The supporting actors too, do a fine job – Sean Dow, is particularly entertaining in all the male roles of Richard, Asher, Spencer, Craig and Rory. Roxanne McDonald, playing mother/grandmother with elderly serenity, provides a calming counterpoint to the angst-ridden younger people.

Both the music (Wil Hughes) and lighting (Jason Glenwright) serve to enhance this ambience – the music has subtle traces of hip hop and party style rhythms to maintain the sense of fun and warmth. The lighting imitates the clear, bright Brisbane light during happier times, then darkens to shades of sombre blue when sadness looms.

The set (Zoe Rouse) deserves special mention – a vast bookcase upstage containing all the familiar paraphernalia so comforting to a book lover’s heart – books, plants, photographs, favorite trinkets, are all displayed. It’s a charming impression of a homey, welcoming space.

Tiddas is a warm and witty piece of theatre to experience during the Sydney Festival.  Delivered by an excellent cast and creative crew it does not disappoint – it provides that extra dose of holiday cheer, with a subtle reminder that our most trusted friendships should always be deeply valued.

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