To bare one’s soul on stage, as the performer does, time and time again, is an already brave undertaking, but what if the performance allowed for a dive deeper, and what if it was littered with personal mementos, childhood keepsakes and the live action interspersed by old family film, what of it then? This is exactly what Personal promised, and delivered in spades, in a deeply affecting and intimate work; it sheds light on another space and time, that for some seems foreign but, for others, is a reality that is steadfast and daily.
Jodee Mundy, who created this work, grew up as the only hearing person in a deaf family, which, as a narrative, already provides many layers to explore and uncover, but over the two years that this work has been in development, it is clear that the concept has been thoroughly investigated with the material that has surfaced in the finished product, all single moments that strike the loudest chords.
In opening scenes we are introduced into this other space and time, audience and performer here collectively take the plunge, so by the end of this experience, the two counterpoints, these contrasting realities seem for a moment, closer to each other. From the outset we are introduced to a kind of humor that is awkward and endearing, a device which, throughout the performance, continues to be employed to great effect. This work is warm and it feels like an embrace from a loved one that we may not have seen in some time.
It is also a technical triumph, the multifaceted projection feeds that appear, fold into each other and emerge somewhere else on stage, a beautiful thing which underpins the live elements of the performance. Lighting is evocative, and completing this vision, is an underscore that is fractured, swallowing and which grounds this work as a whole.
Building to a neat crescendo, all the light and humor is contrasted against the performers fading youth and childhood, in some poignant moments, we hear how her families reliance becomes somewhat of a hindrance, with the growing list of phone calls made on her family’s behalf, forming an unwanted but necessary responsibility that she has no choice but to accept. But this exploration into somewhat darker material is not from a place of contempt, but love, and is balanced out by excerpts of video footage which show, in plain sight, how society more generally tries its best to grasp what life would be like for this family and many others just like them.
Personal, aside from a triumphant piece of performance and live theatre, does something special; it bridges divides, it removes, within this context, “us” and “them”. Not often does theatre, despite the best of intentions, achieve such heights. In extension, Personal has been created as a tour ready performance, allowing the work to strike these same feelings and conversations in communities outside of Melbourne’s somewhat elitist art community, which is where all art should aspire to be. Touching, beautifully crafted, Personal is now playing at Arts House, North Melbourne.