here are times when I wish I still existed in the anonymity of the internet. Where I could write something, and no-one could connect it to a name, or a face, or a person they actually know. Where I could share the fullness of my brain, and the thoughts that are swimming, and the deepest nerve that a piece of art just hit, and still have it be a secret.
Writing my review of Ruby Bruise was one of those moments. I tried to capture what it was, but in no way did I capture the way it captured me.
This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au
When Ruby Bruise was born, she developed at 10,000 times the normal rate, and this production, devised by director Daisy Brown and playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer, invites us in on the journey of Ruby’sgrowing old.
The constructed set in the Waterside Workers Hall of billowing sheets, designed by Amy Milhinch and Wendy Todd, is reminiscent of your childhood cubby house: literally in the cubby of stolen sheets behind the lounge or under the porch chairs, and figuratively in the comfort, home, and wonder it brings. And along with that is the childlike wonder that Ruby Bruise pulls us into.
Starting almost as a children’s story, we are invited in to the wonder and escapism of childhood and Ruby’schildhood, as Ruby tells us the story of her growing up.Kruckemeyer’s emotive lyrical narrative, primarily spoken in the third person as Ruby’s life is narrated with an air of reflection, is sweeping and beautiful in its exploration of ageing: in finding yourself and your talents, and in periods and sex and sexuality.
Written with shades of dark and light, Kruckemeyer explores into a deeper darkness than your children’s stories aught, as in the dark the pains and heartaches of Ruby’s life are lain out before us. But in the light, if you look around at the faces of your fellow audience members, you look into the faces of pure unadulterated joy.
The part of Ruby is shared by four: Sarah Brokensha, Elena Carapetis, Nathan O’Keefe, and Ellen Steele. It would be wrong to call them “the Rubies” because they are one Ruby, and together they make a whole person.Ruby Bruise reflects how, just as all of us are made up of different facets of our personality, different parts of our lives affect different parts of us in different ways.
To pretend we are all complete in oneself is silly: we are complete in ourselves, just as Ruby is complete in these four actors. While in shared lines the timing was occasionally off, the strong cast work together to create a wonderful and complete character.
Under Brown’s direction, Ruby doesn’t so much walk through life as dance and play on her advanced journey from childhood to adulthood. Crafting the overflowing facets of Ruby’s personality in the four actors, Brown has created a magic world in which we are privy to the deeply interesting life of Ruby Bruise. Integrating a variety of theatrical styles, including dance sequences, the sometimes heightened theatricality of the piece serves to highlight the extremities of Ruby’s intense personality.
Unfortunately, there were moments where progression of the character and narrative (and accents) were lost, as the play took long diversions into exploring these theatrical styles and the pace stalled. While an extended magic scene was funny and clever, I was itching to find out what happened to Ruby next.
Mark Pennington paints the white canvas of a set by Milhinch and Todd with brilliant lights: the white, sweeping, and cosy tent is coloured with enveloping radiance, of blues, of yellows. Pennington also plays with shadows, as our first and last meeting with Ruby is through silhouette, and as Ruby’s childhood toy grows into a life-sized beast we are again introduced through shadow.
Music by Mario Spate wraps around Kruckemeyer’s prose and Brown’s direction with fluidity which emphasise and highlights the important moments, without ever being overbearing or unwelcome. Sound and lights are operated off to the corner of the stage, and the tapping of the musician’s foot as he plays the piano is just another way in which this play echoes strains of a childhood freedom.
On opening night Spate’s sound design was accompanied by the heavy pounding of the Adelaide rain on the roof, and although it meant some lines were lost, it was the perfect accompaniment to the intimacy of the play. In our cubby house, we were safe, in the light and even in the heartache.
A play in many ways about loneliness and the ways we try to comfort ourselves (or harm ourselves) to stop feeling the pain, Ruby Bruise is ultimately hopeful in that one day you will find comfort and companion: in your self and in others. It is a sweeping story which is in fact a personal exploration of an individual, albeit one whose personality and thoughts are too big to be contained in the body of one.
As Ruby Bruise would say to herself, I say to her: I like you being here.
Vitalstatistix and The Misery Children present Ruby Bruise, devised by Finegan Kruckemeyer and Daisy Brown. Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, directed by Daisy Brown, design by Amy Milhinch and Wendy Todd, composition by Mario Spate, lighting by Mark Pennington. With Sarah Brokensha, Elena Carapetis, Nathan O’Keefe, and Ellen Steele.