Creatures are doomed to swim in unhappy circles in Mary Rachel Brown’s pithy family drama: goldfish (named Heathcliff and Cathy) in their bowl; sharks and eels in the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour; four people in the home of their dying father.
Maria (Angela Bauer) has undertaken all of the care duties during her father’s physical and mental decline. His demands keep her on a short leash. She unwinds with wine and the occasional oxycodine tablet meant for him.
Older sister Anne (Di Adams) has kept her distance until recently. With the end in sight now, she is determined to manage the messy business of death as quickly and efficiently as possible. She can’t bring herself to go into her dad’s room to see him one last time, however.
Neither can brother Peter (Richard Sydenham), who dallies and dithers while composing lists in his head to help calm his nerves.
While the siblings bicker, Anne’s 20-something son Josh (Alex Beauman) observes from the sidelines, appalled and amused by turns.
Written some 20 years ago (it was staged at the Old Fitzroy in 2002), this is one of Brown’s earliest plays. It’s short (70 minutes), beautifully written and its observations of family disquiet are piercing. Brown’s brand of gallows humour is beguiling and you see in All My Sleep some seeds of her later and better-known play, The Dapto Chaser, another story about children dealing (and not) with the passing and legacies of a dysfunctional father.
Director Dino Dimitriadis tunes the piece perfectly to this intimate space on designer Maya Keys’ distillation of a cheerless home. Lighting (Alexander Berlage) and sound (Ben Pierpoint) are precisely calibrated.
Adams is excellent as brittle, bustling and, at one point, hilariously arachnophobic Anne. Bauer reveals the desperate sadness in Maria, for whom life seems to have passed by. Sydenham is pitch-perfect as the anxious Peter, who resorts to Toastmasters when confronted with the prospect of having to deliver a eulogy. Beauman is contrastingly calm as Josh, a young man with dad issues of his own.
A wise play, a fine production and easy to recommend.