A 2016 Australian Institute of Mental Health study identified the fastest growing demographic of homeless people as women aged over 50.
Usually single or divorced, and under-employed after devoting many years to raising children, they find themselves at the sharp end of Australia’s housing affordability crisis.
Sandra, the subject of Brooke Robinson’s compact and piercing Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. is one such woman.
In its first scene, Sandra (played by Tara Morice) is given two weeks to move out of the room she has lodged in for four years. It’s nothing personal say her housemate-landlords in a scene wriggling with embarrassed self-interest. It’s just that they have an old friend moving to Sydney for work and, well, you know what the rental market is like.
Sandra is about to find out in a series of eight blackly funny and increasingly fraught scenes in which she tries to present her best self to the diverse domestic situations she encounters: a couple of young graduates trying to sublet a boxroom; a mother with a hyperactive four-year-old; a pair of sibling party animals on Halloween night.
These contortions prove too much for a woman who is physically and emotionally vulnerable.
We don’t learn much about Sandra beyond what we see in her serial efforts to morph into a suitable candidate and placed end-to-end, the scenes are similar in terms of tone and outcome. But the cumulative impact is such that when Robinson lands her punch in the play’s final scene – a pitiless assessment of life at the economic and psychological margins – it knocks you for six.
Robinson’s terse dialogue is well-served by taut direction (Marion Potts), a snappy production (an in-progress renovation designed by Melanie Liertz; jarring blasts of techno from Nate Edmondson), an electric performance from Morice, and a series of vivid housemates-from-hell caricatures created by Kelly Paterniti and Fayssal Bazzi.