Mime and generational coming-of-age might seem like an odd pairing, but they make a compelling case for co-existence in The Girl/The Woman, the latest play presented by the National Theatre of Parramatta. The company is committed to reflecting the diversity of Australia as it is today, and alongside Apocalypse Theatre Company – the indie outfit who looks for stories that “respond to now” as producing partner – they have given a platform to a sensitive and charming new story of womanhood, courage and family.
Its playwright, Aanisa Vylet, might be best known for her acting work in Sydney’s theatre scene but The Girl/The Woman comes to the stage with impressive writing credentials: The Girl was shortlisted for the Philip Parson’s Award, and The Woman was part of Belvoir’s Breakout Artist Residency. The development shows, as the two pieces – now performed together as one play – have a cohesive and distinct voice and style.
With mime makeup and an easy, generous approach to physical theatre and movement, The Girl (Vylet) paints the broad strokes of her Sydney life (uni, her family home, attending improv gigs, noticing hot guys) as an inner voice provides narration. Slowly, though, as The Girl sorts through her conflicted feelings about building an independent adult life and the boundaries of family and her Muslim faith, the inner life becomes externalised; she speaks for herself and she moves with more naturalised fluidity.
And slowly, her mother (Nisrine Amine, comic first and later achingly drawn) becomes less of a nagging voice and a woman in her own right, with a story of rebellion and independence and dating just like the Girl’s, albeit countries and decades apart. We learn about her twenties too, and how she built herself a new life with new opportunities in Australia after leaving Beirut. We learn how similar The Girl and The Woman are; we see a lineage of women loving and coming into their own.
Vylet’s script is breezily contemporary – the women turn to the internet for cheerfully bland and bad advice (on curing ills, or how to seduce a man, or how to be confident, with an extra-large dose of Beyoncé) – and blends movement and drama well. Its forthright comic tone gives way warmly and necessarily to realism as The Woman takes on more of the emotional heavy lifting; they communicate in different ways, and the play tackles this stylistically in a way that feels satisfying to the narrative.
Director Dino Dimitriadis, who finds the tender human heart lurking underneath conflict in each play he helms, handles this long-gestating work with care. Vylet and her script are the heroes of his production, which he treats like a maze of maturation, elevating its shakier moments to higher ground. Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set is a warren of furniture – cupboards and dressers and cabinets, a family home deconstructed. Vylet’s Girl clambers over and through her family legacy to tell her own story, climbing on drawers and chests to reach free space to pray, and climbing out of the tangle to enter the world. The Woman has a less restless relationship with the set – it’s her proud home.
There are moments where the play stalls and falters – a scene runs a little long, necessary audience participation flags a little – but these are minor things, small bumps in a largely smooth journey that prizes empathy, legacy, and the burgeoning independence of womanhood. Vylet’s work is lovingly crafted, and her playwriting voice is distinct and refreshingly bold. Take your mother.