Sunday 21 April 2024

The Almighty Sometimes review

Mental illness and identity take centre stage in Kendall Feaver's acclaimed The Almighty Sometimes. Anna (Max McKenna) is an 18-year-old with a mental illness who has been medicated for the last seven years. When she rediscovers short stories she wrote as a child, she begins to question how much of her personality and identity has been changed or hindered due to the medications she has been taking.

McKenna delivers an absolutely captivating performance as Anna. On the cusp of adulthood, they show Anna as simultaneously confident yet fearful, certain but confused. Their ability to constantly switch from sweet-natured and kind to rude and spiteful, sometimes within the same scene, is testament to the commitment McKenna has put in developing their character and making sure it is as authentic as possible. Nadine Garner as Anna's mother Renee, is highly compelling as she attempts to be understanding, nurturing and calm with what's happening to Anna while preventing the world that she has so carefully built from falling to pieces. Garner clearly displays the love that Renee has for her daughter and how desperate she is for her to lead a life without pain.

Louisa Mignone is exceptional as a child psychiatrist who must refer Anna to an adult psychiatrist now she is 18. Mignone highlights the compassionate side to Vivienne while remaining detached and professional. She may be respected in her profession but we question her ethical and moral outlook with how she documents Anna's life and mental illness. Karl Richmond as Oliver, Anna's new boyfriend, is sensitive, caring yet naive when it comes to supporting Anna. He demonstrates Oliver's desire to help her during her struggles, but with his own family challenges and responsibilities, the reality of the situation might be more than he can handle.

Jacob Battista’s mesmerising set design consists of movable pieces that are mechanically operated or manipulated by the cast, so the same locations can be seen from different perspectives while also creating cold and clinical ambiguous spaces. Paired with Hannah Goodwin's direction where characters walk behind, underneath and around the pieces, the stage can be interpreted as an extension of the uncertainty and confusion occurring inside Anna's mind.

Amelia Lever-Davidson's lighting design has the front half of the stage lit up and the back half shrouded in darkness, conjuring up some potent visuals, including one where as Oliver and Renee discuss caring for Anna, McKenna stands in the darkness with her back to the audience, looking into an abyss. Similarly, Kelly Ryall's evocative score breaks the tension during scene changes but continues to heighten the emotional intensity of Feaver's play.

With Goodwin's masterful direction, moving performances by the ensemble and an incredible design team, The Almighty Sometimes is an engrossing powerful story that centres the person rather than the mental illness.


Venue: Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Blv, Southbank
 until 18 May | Mon - Tues 6:30pm, Wed - Sat 7:30pm,  Sat 2pm
 150 minutes including a 20 minute interval
 $59 - $118
 Melbourne Theatre Company

Image credit: Pia Johnson

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