REVIEW: The Black (The Basement)

The Black

The National Bank horse is back. And she’s pissed. [by Tim George]

The Black
The Black

A multimedia piece about a woman’s battle with depression, The Black comes with a terrific pedigree. Written by and starring Josephine Stewart-Tewhiu, and directed by the impressively prolific Tom Sainsbury, it is a well-produced piece with ambition to spare in its use of back-projected images and animations. There is a warm, handmade quality to these effects which occasionally made the show feel like one was watching a Wes Anderson film onstage.

Cleo is a woman in her early 30s who is battling clinical depression. Deadened to everyone and everything around her, she has been forced into therapy by her (offstage) parents, where therapist Sondra (Kate McGill) attempts to draw her out of her shell.

The ‘Black’ of the title is the embodiment of Cleo’s depression, which she sees as a black horse who is always by her side. Played with great physicality by an almost unrecognisable Julia Croft, the Black is a fascinating metaphor for the true complexities of depression, a shifting, amorphous creature who is almost impossible for Cleo to grasp — shifting between over-protective best friend and abusive lover, Croft nails every facet and permutation of the Black’s control over her host, and runs away with the show.

The Black’s interactions with Cleo, both during her sessions with Sondra and when they are alone are reason enough to see the show. It is a terrific conceit that Stewart-Tewhiu maintains throughout the show, and elevates what could have been a more conventional battle of wits between patient and therapist.

And now I must turn to my only problem with the play: It’s really, really short. Without resorting to spoilers, just as it seems events are about escalate, the story ends. When the lights came up, I thought it was going to be an act break. The ending feels so much like the soft landing of an Act 1 that it’s hard to come away from the show feeling any sense of resolution, or having learned anything new about its subject.

I really hope The Black comes back in an expanded form. The acting is great and everything leading up to the abrupt ending was terrific. In the end however, it just feels like all build-up and no climax. Perhaps this was the intention, but if so, it does not come off.

The Black  plays at The Basement until 12 September. Details see The Basement
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