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"Her chameleon suppleness is astonishing"

Audrey review: Zahra Newman delivers one of the best performances of the year in a portrait of a family shattered by violence.

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Show: Random
Company: Belvoir
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Random

Date: 27 Oct 2018

Every family has its own rhythm in the morning.

In random, where four family members live inside the body of one actor, that rhythm breaks open like early sunshine.

There’s the mother making breakfast for her children, tsking that they don’t eat or drink enough. There’s the father, still slumbering. The daughter – a whirlwind on her way to work – finding time to badger her little brother for his phone. The brother, all charm and confidence, wearing his school uniform like it isn’t a uniform at all.

As they enact their lived-in bustle and lovingly buzz around each other, it’s easy to fall in love with this Afro-Caribbean family, written with ferocious love by British playwright debbie tucker green (who spells her name in deliberate lower case).

When a tragedy – a random act of violence – strikes this family, it shatters that rhythm forever. And it shatters us.

Newman, who most recently starred as Nabalungi in The Book of Mormon, returns here to more serious fare. Her chameleon suppleness is astonishing. She moves from one family member to another with a drop of the hip, a straightening of the spine, a cross of her arms. The changes are lightning fast and never jarring.

Leticia Cáceres, one of Australia’s most important directorial talents, is at the helm here. She keeps the focus strong and squarely on Newman as she shifts through the story of the day, time-stamped and storytelling shared by her portrayals of each family member. She’s electric, natural, and the family feels alive.

green’s script is detailed in key ways to unlock our empathy and create a full portrait: the breakfast porridge has black spots in it; the brother’s room smells like teenage boy in very particular ways; the shape of each family member’s body is unforced, individual, but interlocking. Under Cáceres’ ever-watchful, highly empathetic eye, the family resemblance – the family magic – is unmistakable, and this performance is easily one of Newman’s best.

On a stark, nearly bare stage that suggests space, time, and gravitas by Jacob Nash – lit with a keen, sensitive eye by Rachel Burke – and with tense composition and sound design by The Sweats, random is a gorgeously giving, grieving work. random is often funny, and then deeply moving, examining random street violence – and the fact that ‘random’ acts don’t quite happen to everyone. It looks at the ways we come together and are cleaved apart, at the ways we relate to the world – and about the ways the world sees us, and the ways we see each other.

Cáceres and Newman first toured random in 2010. They have brought it back because, in part – as told by Cáceres in her director’s note – not many people saw their first go round. It would be a shame to make that mistake twice.

The play runs for about an hour. It feels like a lifetime. It feels like one minute. It’s beautifully constructed and it’s heart-wrenching.

Take tissues.

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