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Meet Me at Dawn

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Two actresses, with one placing her hands on the other.
    Photograph: Pia Johnson
  2. Two actors on a stage covered in blue sand, in front of a decaying house.
    Photograph: Pia Johnson
  3. An actress smiling
    Photograph: Pia Johnson

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

A couple marooned on an island try to navigate their way home, but uncover they've forever lost the reality they once knew

At some point in your life, you may have sat around a dining table and questioned your companions: if you were stranded on a deserted island, what object would you wish for? How would you cope? Imagining these worst-case scenarios can be a morbidly entertaining party game – and Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Meet Me At Dawn begins by playing out this hypothetical proposition. But what starts as an extrapolation of a classic ‘what if?’, blurs into a melding of reality and imagination, where loss and grief surface. 

The play, penned by award-winning Scottish writer Zinnie Harris, frantically begins with a couple washing up on a strange shore after they capsize their boat. Helen, played by Sheridan Harbridge (Prima Facie) and Robyn, played by Jing-Xuan Chan (The Family Law), are two middle-class academics whose spontaneous recreational boating trip comes to an abrupt watery end after they overestimate their sailing abilities. 

As the pair realise they are completely disoriented on an unknown island, a sequence of bickering, frustration and panic ensues, a recogniseable dynamic for many couples. Director Katy Maudlin adeptly infuses a surprising number of comedic moments into this frightening scenario, complimented by the chemistry between Chan and Harbridge who depict an amusingly relatable relationship. The smattering of chuckles from the audience is emboldened by Harbridge’s masterful comedic chops and choice of a humorous, somewhat posh accent (kind of like Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek but Aussie and not as unhinged). Her characterisation helps lift the drama out of truly harrowing territory, with touches of melodrama and silliness that keep the text from becoming too heavy with despair.

Chan’s character begins as the more unassuming of the two. Robyn is neurotic and less confident than her counterpart,  clashing with Helen’s brazen bravado in the face of their predicament. However, Robyn is also the central figure in this story, and she weaves between fast-paced, naturalistic dialogue with her partner and more abstract asides to the audience that narrate her fragmented inner-monologue. As her ambiguous soliloquies begin to seamlessly bleed into conversations with Helen, they both begin to see cracks in their island reality. Are they concussed from the accident? Is Robyn having visions of a parallel universe? Or are memories slowly breaking through a fantastical reverie? The pair become less concerned with how they’re going to get home, and more concerned with questioning what is real and what isn’t. It takes a while for the penny to fully drop – but as the two women reckon with Robyn’s revelations, the truth is revealed. 

Based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Meet Me At Dawn migrates to a dream world or alternate reality – it’s not 100 per cent clear which it is, or whether there is a mythic magic that plays a part (the inclusion of the mystical old woman trope as a minor third character suggests there might be). But the answer to this doesn’t feel imperative, as it becomes clear that this isn’t a story of the characters finding their way home, but rather through a journey of loss. 

Chan has the hefty task of portraying a woman navigating the emotional breadth of the stages of grief in just one hour – from denial to desperate attempts at acceptance, and an impressive, furious tirade at the eleventh hour. It’s a devastatingly realistic depiction delivered with utter proficiency. Together with Harbridge, moments of beautiful tenderness unfurl as their characters take turns to comfort one another. But the pace of the scenes move so quickly, a little more space would have been nice for the audience to savour these morsels. Despite the devastating narrative, Maudlin’s direction keeps flickers of humour alive, which were clearly welcome reprieves from the emotional intensity judging by the laughter from the audience. After all, humour is a common coping mechanism in the face of tragedy.  

The plot may sound like a jarring pivot to devastating loss – but the use of stagecraft in the production foreshadows that something is not quite right on this supposed island. The set, designed by Romanie Harper, is the wreck of a weatherboard home that appears to be half-sunk in sand, which perfectly signposts the destruction of this couple’s former domestic bliss. Lighting designer Amelia Lever-Davidson and composer and sound designer Daniel Nixon subtly create an eerie atmosphere throughout the piece. Their additions contribute a softness or intensity where needed to elevate the drama, and aid the switching between the real and unreal.  

Meet Me At Dawn poses a few questions, and it doesn’t offer any answers. But this makes sense considering it’s an exploration of the boundaries of grief. There are no clear-cut conclusions in the depths of deep loss. There is no knowing when, or even if, grief will end. But this production does offer a deeply moving and poignant portrayal of the liminal space of navigating loss and what goes on in that distance in between. 

Melbourne Theatre Company's 'Meet Me At Dawn' is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne until March 16. For more information and to purchase tickets, head to the website.

Want more? Check out the best theatre and musicals playing in Melbourne this month.

Liv Condous
Written by
Liv Condous


From $29
Opening hours:
2pm, 6.30pm, 7.30pm
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