It was 7:48pm. Kate and I were walking earnestly through the back streets of Erskineville, attempting to rid ourselves of the Erko burger-induced food coma we’d forced on ourselves. We anticipated a confronting and shocking performance of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, from the consistent excellence of Saro Lusty-Cavallari and Imogen Gardam of Montague Basement, but our expectations were exceeded.
Let me learn you a thing or two ladies and gents because this play surpassed even my GoT-desensitised limits. There’s nudity, sex, incest, drugs and abusive love – I know, it has the makings of a new HBO drama, right?
We stepped into a space disguised as an unsanitary institution, its underlying purpose to “help” i.e. rid the world of, undesirables. Annie Stafford as a historically male Tinker effortlessly reveals the clinical and psychopathic nature of the doctor-psychologist-teacher-killer terrorising a world unknown to us “normal” outsiders. Stafford's performance was both captivating and menacing. Put it this way, we wouldn't want to run into her in a dark alleyway at night or anywhere else for that matter.
Lusty-Cavallari and dramaturg, Michaela Savina, have cultivated an underworld of Orwellian voyeurism where seven deadly sinful characters emerge from Kane’s darkness. Jem Rowe’s depiction of 'Robin' was a darkly comical realisation that felt so very real. Rowe's characterisation was on point and honest. You wanted to wrap him inside a blanket and tell him that it was all going to be okay, even though it most definitely was not all going to be okay.
Playing the part of the siblings come lovers were Michaela Savina (Grace) and Kurt Pimblett (Graham) both of whom delivered stand out performances. Our hearts also bled for the rest of the underlings, Sam Brewer, as Rod, Lucy Burke, as the Woman and Alex Chalwell as Carl. Each brought their own unique and important flavour to the mix and all should be commended for their performance.
The most impressive aspect of this performance, in my humble opinion, was the production value, and the entire 'feel' of the show. The clever use of video imagery, light effects and distributing sounds created a 90-minute jarring effect. You could never quite get comfortable which I assume was the entire point.
Kane’s world abolishes the romanticised lens through which we see the institution of love, almost in spite of the notion that we believe love will absolve our sins. On so many occasions, we were compelled to gawk in revulsion at unimaginable actions playing out before us, with an inability to assist, which begs the question - how long are we willing to let horrifying actions continue on without stepping in? Are we seeing a reflection of our own dissipating humanity?
Without ruining the shock value of certain scenes, though certainly you may wish to heed the caution in this, the third violent removal of a body part led to the aversion of my eyes, as we were at risk of having another TSH writer vomit shamelessly in public.
"This play made me feel like I was being punched in the temple over and over again, but in a good kind of way." - Kate Neilson
For the actors to strip to the nude (yes – the full newd), engage in acts of sexy-times in front of strangers’ curious gazes and characterise what the backwards thinking would consider the 'worst' kind of traits and qualities plaguing our society, takes a level of strength that I couldn’t accumulate in a lifetime of nudity, so credit is very much due there.
One thing’s for sure, I won’t be sleeping anytime soon. Join me in my lack of slumber and get yourselves to the remaining performances of this short, but by no means empty, fringe run of a wonderfully repulsive play. You might just fall in love with it.
Tickets and info here (if you dare).
Please note that Cleansed contains nudity, graphic depictions of violence, gore, sexual violence, sex and drug use as well as sudden loud noises and mild strobing lights. For more information on the production please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAST & CREW
Directed and Designed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Produced by Imogen Gardam
Dramaturg Michaela Savina
With Sam Brewer, Lucy Burke, Alex Chalwell, Kurt Pimblett, Jem Rowe, Michaela Savina and Annie Stafford
Artwork by Hannah Cox
Images: Clare Hawley
Madeleine Sharpe needs precisely thirty-seven alarms to wake up in the morning. Likes: coffee, and a cheeky boogie in a pair of sparkly heels. Give her a kilo of cheese and she'll love* you forever. *love not guaranteed.