In a society where the literary works of men are frequently performed on the Sydney stage, it was refreshing to see a play by an esteemed female writer grace The Depot Theatre. Inspired by the life and work of American poet Emily Dickinson, Susan Glaspell wrote Alison’s House in the 1930s, creating a world full of secrets and deception.
We are introduced to the Stanhope family who are in the middle of packing up the family estate and selling it off. It is New Year’s Eve in 1899 – the end of a century and the beginning of a new era. As Father Stanhope (David Jeffrey) attempts to organise the house, his ailing sister and his wayward children, the story of his other sister, Alison, begins to emerge. A renowned poet, Alison lived her entire life in that house, kept company by their sister Agatha (Sarah Plummer). After her death 18 years prior, the family published a book of her poems, believing that was all there was of her literary work.
As the play unfolds we discover that Father Stanhope is estranged from his daughter who has run off with a married man so tensions are rife when she appears on the doorstep to say goodbye to the old house. Despite being gone for 18 years Alison is everywhere – in every room, every book, every piece of paper – her spirit fills the house. Every character has a different memory of Alison and over the course of the evening all of these are revealed. It is these multi-faceted and deeply personal accounts of the poet which make Alison’s House such a unique and beautiful play to watch. This includes the thoughts of a young and idealistic media reporter Richard Knowles (Elliot Falzon) who visits the house to see where Alison had once lived. He is of the belief that her story belongs to the world, an ideal that is as true today with celebrity as it was then – perhaps more so.
As the dawn of a new century approaches secrets are revealed and we discover the characters have far more in common than they realise. 18 years on Alison is still making her mark and finally, as the family walk boldly into the 20th century, it seems Alison’s story will finally be told.
An outstanding performance by the entire cast, but in particular, the dynamic between father and daughter (David Jeffrey and Nyssa Hamilton) was especially moving. Tasha O’Brien was incredibly authentic and natural as the secretary Ann, with James Martin’s performance as the irritating youngest brother Ted so realistic there were actually moments I wanted to slap him.
A thoroughly enjoyable play which takes family intrigued to another level and proves that even the best kept secrets won’t stay buried forever.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Alison’s House is playing at The Depot Theatre until 21 April 2018. For more information and to book tickest head to www.thedepottheatre.com (reviewer attended on 14 April 2018)