Eloise in the Middle
Dunedin Public Art Gallery Auditorium, Dunedin
29/09/2018 - 06/10/2018
Eloise in the Middle follows seven-year-old Eloise and her mother Karen as they navigate Eloise’s first solo trip to see her father since her parents separated four years previously.
Eloise in the Middle is a family drama-comedy with wide appeal that explores contemporary family issues in a way that is authentic, touching, and, at times, very funny. It was published by Playmarket in the 2013 anthology Here/Now: 8 Plays by Award-Winning NZ Playwrights.
Emily says about writing Eloise, “The play grew out of thinking about the particular type of emotional intelligence that children of separated parents need to develop; the ability to read the emotional landscape in each of their households and act as a sort of conduit between the parents. Even when everyone does their very, very best to make sure that the family dynamics are as congenial as possible, a child can’t be entirely immune to tensions between her mother’s household and that of her father’s.
“In Eloise in the Middle, I wanted to capture both the heartbreak and comedy of that situation.”
The 2018 season, directed by Jordan Dickson and starring local professional actor Sara Georgie, is a new and extended version of the script for which Sara takes on the roles of both mother and daughter. Supporting Jordan and Sara is a team of entirely local professional theatre practitioners.
What others have said about Eloise in the Middle:
“The story is told with a wonderfully engaging sense of humour, drawing out the ironies of each situation without detracting from the poignancy.”
David O’Donnell. Foreword to Here/Now.
“The writing of the child’s experience of her parents’ divorce is acutely heard… I appreciated the carefully chosen details, the natural idiom, the story: simple, direct and chillingly plausible.”
Helen Watson White. Landfall Review Online.
“Duncan has an astute and sensitive approach to capture the voice of a child; Eloise’s often brutal honesty reflects the oxymoronically pragmatic and incongruous thoughts of a seven-year-old.”
Nicola Hyland. Australasian Drama Studies.
WITH SUPPORT FROM: CNZ / Playmarket / DPAG / UNESCO Dunedin City of Lit / Bingham Creative / Nova / Otago Polytechnic
Pay what you can/preview performance 6.30pm Thursday 27th September
Saturday 29th September – Saturday 6th October (no performance Monday 1st October)
Cast: Sara Georgie
Potent and commendable
Review by Kate Timms-Dean 03rd Oct 2018
Divorce: even the word hurts. It conjures up images of separation, severance, a division. In the middle of these cracks between people, children sometimes dwell, a reminder, a remnant. Children like Eloise.
Eloise is 7 and lives with her mum, while her dad lives in Wellington. She doesn’t see her dad very much. Eloise knows that her mum is mad at her dad, but, when he calls, she jumps at the chance to see him.
Sara Georgie plays both Eloise and her mother Karen in recounting the child’s brief adventures in Wellington. Her delivery is superb; both characters emerge in crystal clarity, vibrant and well-defined. The clever multi-levelled set is a perfect landscape for Georgie’s story-telling, enabling changes of mood and state throughout the work. This is further underlined through dramatic use of lighting and sound.
Another outstanding element of the design is the use of audio-visual images and animation provided by Communication Design students from the Otago Polytechnic School of Design.
Following the show, we are lucky enough to have a few minutes with director Jordan Dickson, writer Emily Duncan, actor Sara Georgie, Simon Anderson (set design) and Matt Morgan (sound). The collaborative nature of the work undertaken amongst this talented group is impossible to overlook. In stark contrast with the traditional role of director (being one who directs), it is clear that Dickson, Duncan and Georgie’s relationship is a true partnership based on mutual trust and respect. With the added proficiency of an expert technical team, the production is slick and professional while still maintaining a sense of intimacy.
The topic of divorce and its impacts on the children of these so-called ‘broken homes’ is a serious issue for many families throughout Aotearoa. To be expressing this conversation through the eyes of a child is a potent and commendable approach.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
So-called tug-of-love viewed with humour and wry compassion for all involved
Review by Terry MacTavish 01st Oct 2018
Eloise in the Middle feels like a play we need, a play we have been waiting for, and not just because the Fortune was meant to present it as part of their mainstage programme this year. It is tender and funny and true. It is about a child, but not at all childish. It will speak intimately to many, children and adults, who have suffered the break-up of families.
It takes me back to when I was six, and lost my father. My world changed completely, yet no one spoke about it. We even changed countries. I changed too, became a nervous little girl constantly fearful of transgressing strange incomprehensible rules.
For Eloise too, the rules have changed. She is only seven and, for more than half her life, she has lived with her mother, Karen. Now she has recklessly agreed on a visit to her father, Dennis, in another city a scary plane flight away. Will the bed be cold? What will there be for breakfast?
There are deeper anxieties too. Someone has cleared her personal things out to make room for Eloise. Someone who sleeps in her father’s room. Lucy. Eloise senses this will not make her mother happy. She knows what makes her mother mad, but can’t remember what her father’s mad was like. Not knowing what the rules are, what is acceptable behaviour in this confusing new world, may lead to her humiliation, and an abrupt end to the visit.
Emily Duncan is a gifted writer who won the City of Literature Beyond Words Award at the 2018 Fringe Festival and has been named the next Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University. Her words can soar on “the viewless wings of poesy” or thump prosaically back down to earth. She balances strong passionate feeling with a quirky sense of humour.
Eloise in the Middle has had a long gestation. In Here/Now, Playmarket’s compilation of plays by award-winning NZ Playwrights, it is the only script that has not been produced. Partly because the play is in essence a monologue, it is in fact easy to follow and richly satisfying merely to read. Fortunately this exquisite stage interpretation by Prospect Park Productions (producer H-J Kilkelly) does the script full justice.
In Sara Georgie, we have the perfect Eloise. She inhabits the role completely, right from her tentative entry into an empty classroom, where she has her lunch alone, carefully eating her raisins one at a time. As Eloise, Georgie is adorable, in dungarees and ponytail, with the sweet face of a cherub, and the ability to inspire the audience with an urge to protect her. Eloise tells her story of the visit to her father simply, like a class show-and-tell, displaying her pink backpack purchased for the trip which contains a mysterious present from Lucy. She is honest, anxious and caring. Everything she observes, does, and thinks is immaculately detailed, and through this we also gain insight into her separated parents, who despite their good intentions are essentially self-centred.
Georgie’s energetic physicality and facial expressions are often hilarious, but always remarkably authentic. “This is my life!” says a boy from a school party, and I am reminded that Georgie has worked extensively with young people as teacher and facilitator, and evidently knows them well. Many of the rehearsals have deliberately been held in a classroom, and they are real children’s drawings that are hung around the stage set.
Georgie’s transformation to mother Karen is almost uncanny, so convincingly and smoothly is it effected. There are some lovely sequences of Karen left to her own devices, wandering round the empty flat, taking a bath, drinking and dancing with her friends. But though I am impressed by the sheer skill demonstrated with no more help than an added scarf, by now I have bonded with Eloise and wait eagerly for her return.
Director Jordan Dickson has ensured Eloise in the Middle has high production values – most of the crew previously worked at the Fortune. The Art Gallery space, surrounded by new black curtains, has been designed by Simon Anderson to reveal a classroom simply indicated on a raised platform, with white-painted table and chairs. The screen behind allows for creative work by the 3rd year Communication Design students from Otago Polytechnic. Anything Eloise draws to help tell her story appears, but digital animation also illuminates particular moments, like a drawing of a tiny hand clutching hold of one large finger. Best of all is the very special story, ostensibly compiled from home movie clips, that makes for such a moving and uplifting conclusion.
Garry Keirle’s lighting design, operated by Mac Veitch, is subtly effective, cold blue light underscoring Eloise’s nervous anticipation as she sets off into an unknown city at night. The sound, by Matt Morgan, is a particular delight, with little jokes like a burst of heavenly choir music every time Eloise raptly contemplates the wonder of apple juice. I am charmed too by the poster and programme picture, the silhouette of a busy little girl purposefully towing her suitcase, on the move!
Duncan has applied her great acumen and insight to a significant issue of our time, dedicating Eloise in the Middle to all children of any age who have more than one family. We need to cherish work that helps us understand the fragile world of the child, their astonishing emotional intelligence and the funny little fears that loom so large to a seven year old. Duncan’s sharp observation and sensitivity remind me of Janet Frame’s short stories – Eloise would surely like My Cousins Who Could Eat Cooked Turnips.
Children, so often disconcertingly aware of the flaws of their elders, and grown-ups who are still hurting from their own childhoods, will recognise and feel validated by Eloise’s story. Any adult responsible for a child’s happiness will feel a stab of guilt over the harm done by failing to understand the child’s viewpoint. With humour and wry compassion for all involved, Duncan has shown us the selfishness of the so-called tug-of-love, through the creation of luminous Eloise – a warm, funny little girl who sets us the example of truly unconditional love.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Editor October 4th, 2018
Here is the link to Terry MacTavish’s chat with Jesse Mulligan about ELOISE IN THE MIDDLE and the Arts Festival Dunedin.
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