A shelf filled with books or a wardrobe brimming with various shoes can bring lots of solace and comfort to people. Collecting things can often be a reminder of adventures and events in your life. However, this need to keep things can sometimes be a manifestation of fear and anxiety. Sandra Fiona Long's Birdcage Thursdays focuses on Helene, an aging mother whose need to hold on to everything and unable to throw things out has gotten so out of control she is now facing being evicted from her home. It's up to her daughter and a case manager to attempt to reason with her in culling possessions they perceive to be junk but to Helene are protecting her from her loneliness.
Genevieve Picot as Helene finds a good balance of determination and fear, particularly when it comes to avoiding her case manager, Kiera, who intends to help Helene learn how to let go of everything she's been holding on to. Her daughter Catherine, played by Sophia Constantine, displays the frustration at trying to help someone who doesn't realise they have a problem however there are times where she comes off as more aloof than caring and the relationship between mother and daughter does not feel as it has been fully fleshed out and established.
Long developed this piece with research from hoarding professionals and she firmly establishes that hoarding is a mental illness and is subsequently sensitive and sympathetic of Helene's refusal to accept that she has a problem. Despite the looming threat of eviction hanging over her and building tension with her daughter, Helene defiantly goes out and purchases more items for her newest hobby - calligraphy.
The combined sound design by Raya Slavin and lighting design by Rebecca Etchell work well in conveying Helene's emotions and Joanne Mott's set design consisting of various boxes stacked on top of each other and scattered over the entire space are used effectively in Helene's fragile state of mind. Caitlin Dullard's direction builds on the claustrophobia and suffocation being felt by mother and daughter by having the cast perform in small, tight areas as they are slowly enveloped by the boxes.
While the characters in Birdcage Thursdays could still do with some development, Long's look at hoarding with regards to the mental health of a woman trying to stay relevant and wanted is painfully honest but the blows are cushioned by its gentle narrative. It's the type of work where the more time you spend considering the issues explored, the more thoughts you are forced to unpack about your own life.
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 12 November | Tues - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5:00pm
Tickets: Full $38 | Concession $32
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs