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Homesick

"it has come from a place of deep emotional connection"

Sally Alrich-Smythe's new play explores multi-generational attitudes towards ambition, mental health and what it means to be a woman.

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Category: Theatre
Show: Homesick
Company: Bontom
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Homesick: Great Expectations

Date: 1 Oct 2019

There was no question that my first play would be based on my relationship with my mum.

As her only child, we often joked we were the Gilmore girls but without the drama and the evil grandmother.

My first day of school? Mum took the day off work and instead watched me, secretly from her car, make my way around the playground on my own.

My school’s Easter hat parade? Mum made me a hat that was too tall for me to get it through doorways.

My first break-up? Mum brought me a giant tub of ice-cream and a bucket of KFC.

My first drink? Mum poured it.

My mum gave me the world and stopped at nothing. I never once questioned the fact that I was what she lived for. I was her life, and she mine; that is, until I grew up, and flew the nest. And at this point, my mum and I lost something: the ability to talk to each other whenever we wanted.

As a gift for my 21st birthday, mum had all of our home videos digitally converted.

As I made my way through them, I became obsessed with learning more about a version of my mum who was a young woman, filled with hope and ambition, who looked, talked and behaved just like me.

For the first time ever, I thought about the woman my mum was before I came along. She had always said to me that her outlook on life changed the day she had me – but I never really understood the significance of what she meant. Did she once dream the same dreams that I do now? And did I get in her way?

Across the world, the increased incidence, and detection of, mental illness affecting young people has come to be seen as a major public health crisis. One of the factors affecting young people in developed countries is the impact of increased (and almost limitless) amounts of opportunity.

When I talk to my grandmother about her life when she was my age, she hadn’t finished school and her career ambitions boiled down to a choice between teaching and nursing. It was simply a given that she would marry and start a family as soon as possible. Her sights weren’t set on anything else – and she has no regrets.

My mum, on the other hand, often talks about the choices she made and other paths she could have walked. Much of this emerges now and in hindsight, because she, like my grandmother, wasn’t overwhelmed with choices, and so mum didn’t live in fear of regret.

When it comes to my life, and indeed, the lives of many young women like me, I find myself surrounded by female role models who occupy positions of power in a variety of areas: athletes, prime ministers, artists, and scientists.

I genuinely feel (and I was told) that I can be anyone whom I choose to be.

I can change my mind a million times, apply to study anywhere in the world, and make it all on my own using just a smartphone and a couple of filters. I stand on the shoulders of women who came before me, and openly acknowledge that for too many young women, perhaps these opportunities continue to be out of reach.

The women in my play however have vastly differing attitudes towards ambition, mental health and what it means to be a woman.

When Sam, the daughter in Homesick, comes home to Wallerawang after a tumultuous two years at a prestigious music college in New York, she finds herself questioning her mother’s faith in her. She finds a box of old home videos, and begins to come to grips with the life her mother wanted for her, and the life she actually has led.

Homesick is the story of a young woman drowning in love, feeling the weight of expectation crushing her.

The play utilises live projection to display the home videos, as well as Instagram stories, and FaceTime videos, and does so in a visually inventive way, which is an indicator of the cleverness of Claudia Osborne’s vision for the piece.

And while my first play is definitely not autobiographical, it has come from a place of deep emotional connection. In a way, it’s a letter to my mother that has just two words in it: thank you.

HOMESICK plays at The Old 505 Theatre from October 8, part of the FRESHWORKS FEMME season.

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