Saturday 19 August 2023

Monument review

Edith Aldridge has just 90 minutes to prepare for the most important day of her life, and it's not her wedding. Makeup artist Rosie has arrived at the hotel as a last-minute call-in to ensure Edith looks gorgeous, after all, how often do you get sworn in as the youngest female leader of a country? Written by Emily Sheehan, Monument explores the power that makeup, fashion and beauty hold over women and also the power that women can have from this. It's a delicate act that is captured by an intriguing and interesting premise.

Julia Hanna is brilliant as Rosie, a perfect foil to the matter-of-fact and calmly distressed Prime Minister. Her line delivery, pronunciation and speech patterns convey much about the character's background and make her inexperienced interactions with the Prime Minister seem genuine. Sarah Sutherland as the Prime Minister presents a woman who is slowly unravelling by forces outside her control and feeling the pressure of being relentlessly monitored over the minutest of details. She exposes Edith's emotional turmoil in a very raw way, including a compelling scene of her silently releasing her anger and frustrations out into the world.

It's with these silences that director Ella Caldwell excels, allowing the audience time to reflect on what is said and consider the time, effort and constant analysis of every single decision that these two women are having to make in these 90 minutes including what colour lipstick to apply, what colour dress to wear and how will various influential people respond to said dress, and how to take a makeup free selfie where the Prime Minister can still look naturally beautiful. It is absolutely exhausting hearing all these issues come up but it is through these that we are kept on side with both of these women even when we disagree with what they say at times.

For the most part, Sheehan's script provides engaging discourse between two women from completely contrasting lifestyles, who are put inside this pressure cooker environment, and able to find some common ground. It's fascinating that many of their conversations around fashion and makeup leads back to the men in their lives (boyfriends, fathers, husbands and colleagues), putting focus on the precarious game women must play of balancing passiveness with assertiveness and the battle to be wholly autonomous.

There are a few instances where the story goes a little astray, such as an awkward attempt at blackmail that eventuates to nothing and is almost forgotten about as quickly as it is picked up. Removing some of the purposeless conversation, like when Rosie is schooling the Prime Minister on what Afterpay is, would tighten this production and prevent conversations from becoming tedious.

Set and costume designer Sophie Woodward has created a pink palette that would make Barbie proud with sheer pink curtains running along the lavish hotel room. Expensive clothes on a rack, shoes and numerous shopping bags lined up along the floor draws attention to the lengths that women are forced to dress up to simply do their job. The pink circular podium on which the performance takes place is another indicator of how women are continually on stage, always being watched and judged.

Monument raises thoughtful questions abut the power that makeup and fashion afford a woman but also the way women’s genetic makeup makes them a slave to the same thing. Cocooned into a real-time 90 minutes, the play doesn't give us any definitive answers but highlights the contradictory circumstances, conditions and manners in which women are expected to participate in this arduous existence of false authenticity.

Show Details

Venue: Red Stich Actors' Theatre, 2 Chapel St, St. Kilda East

Season: until 3 September | Wed - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6:30pm
Duration: 90 minutes

Tickets: $69 Full | $50 Concession | $37 Student/Under 30s
Bookings: Red Stitch Actors' Theatre

Image credit: Jodie Hutchinson

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