The Serena Syndrome

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

18/02/2008 - 23/02/2008

Production Details

World Premiere at Fringe 08

"You’re not mine…I’m sorry, Serena. I did a bad thing…"   

Echoing themes of child-abduction, coming-of-age and self-discovery, The Serena Syndrome may at first feel a familiar, well-worn story, but then it blossoms into a dramatic tale about the threads that tie together the lives of mothers & daughters, and of families – those ties that are so easily broken, and so painstakingly and slowly re-tied. 

Diane has a secret, one that has eaten away at her for years, and one that her daughter is about to discover.  Serena learns that she was abandoned as a baby (or so it seemed), found and raised by Diane as a means to move on from her own traumatic experiences, and now has to endure the pain of understanding and accepting Diane’s actions. 

Selfish or selfless, Diane’s motivations cause heartbreak and anguish, to herself, to Serena and to Serena’s biological mother, who has had to cope with the paralyzing effects of apparent child-abduction for over a decade.

Writer-Director Danny Eastman, of the UK-based Anduin Theatre Company, presents The Serena Syndrome in its World Premiere at the 2008 Wellington Fringe Festival.

Danny Eastman has been writing for Radio and Theatre in London for the last four years. He started life in the entertainment industry as an actor, treading the boards for eight years before turning his attention to the art of playwrighting. In 2004, Danny founded Anduin Theatre Company, which has since become the point from where Danny has been able to showcase his work to a public audience.

As well as working as an actor, Danny has worked in schools around the South East of England, conducting acting workshops and exam based sessions for GCSE and A-Level studies of theatre. The work Danny did in the academic year 2006-2007, led him to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Marlborough School’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. 

Danny’s recent projects have included Hokus Bloke’s adaptation of Robert Rankin’s Brightonomicon for the BBC, opposite Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) and Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter) and, of course, the world premiere of his new play, The Serena Syndrome, at the New Zealand Fringe Festival.

The Serena Syndrome
February 18 – 23, 8.15pm (with Saturday matinee 2pm)
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee St, Wellington
Tickets $18 / conc $14 / Fringe Addict $12
Bookings ph or txt 021 0263 5751   

Sophia Savage, Jo Crilly, Mary-Beth Hawkins, Dave Allen, Rachel Wattie, Brad Lockyer and Brylee Lamb

1hr 40 mins

Fascinating conflict

Review by Michael Wray 24th Feb 2008

Gryphon Theatre hosts the World Premiere of the new play from Danny Eastman, who takes the opportunity to direct his own work. Whether the play takes its inspiration from a specific real event is unclear, but it examines an interesting question. What would happen if you found out your identity was not your own?

The show publicity seems carefully worded to hide the reason for the question. However, the reveal is made within the first few minutes and is easily guessed as the play starts. I don’t see it as a spoiler by discussing it and then I can bring up one of the few dissatisfactory elements of the play.

We discover in those initial moments that 13 year-old Serena was abducted from her biological mother as a baby and raised by a new family. All she knows of herself is based on the life she has lead with her assumed family.

It seemed to me that the admission comes too easily. At 13, Serena would surely have asked about her baby years before. Yet one simple question is enough to push pseudo-mum Diane into a confession. I would prefer to see something trigger Diane’s breakdown; perhaps the discovery of a kept newspaper-cutting leading to awkward questions?

It is a forgivable fault – the point of the play is to explore what happens after the truth comes out and not the manner in which a secret is spilt after so many years. My other complaint is the way the play is tied up at the end, with Serena delivering an unnecessary announcement that adds nothing to the story.

Sophia Savage plays Serena with confidence and skill. At times, she seems unduly bemused, sporting an enigmatic smile during her moments of exposition. However, this is the twenty-something year-old Serena looking back at events of a decade earlier, so perhaps time has afforded her a new perspective.

The standout performer is Jo Crilly as Diane. Technically, she’s the villain of the piece. As we see the events that lead up to the abduction and the love she genuinely has for "her" daughter, Diane wins our sympathy more than biological mother Linda. Diane’s partner, excellently played by Dave Allen, is also given a more sympathetic airing than Linda.

The play focuses on Diane and Serena. We have little opportunity to experience the impact on Linda and the father is completely absent. Mary Beth Hawkins does well in her few moments to convey Linda’s loss. When we witness the reunion between Serena and Linda, each performer delivers directly to the audience. This reinforces the sense of separation between mother and daughter, and the hesitancy they feel towards each other.

The play is set in America and the entire cast are required to use American accents. I’m no expert on accents, but I could not detect any wavering and I left convinced that most of the cast were speaking in their natural voice. Only Lizzy, Serena’s childhood friend, is played as a Kiwi and I suspect this was a necessity of casting. The play could as easily been re-set in New Zealand to avoid accent issues, though this did make me wonder whether a specific real-life event was being portrayed.

It’s a simple play with a powerful idea. Examining the situation more from the perspective of Diane than Linda provides an interesting angle. It’s the angle in which the conflict exists. For the real mother, it’s a single-sided experience: loss. Diane is balancing both love and guilt, with Serena experiencing mixed emotions between what she feels and what she knows. Those are good ingredients and Eastman does not disappoint with his use of them.

On the evening I attended, the cast outnumbered the audience. Presumably, it has been lost in the voluminous content of this year’s Fringe and International Arts Festival. Perhaps the show’s publicity material has been a little too coy about its topic and failed to sell the fascinating conflict that it presents. I hope it has the chance to redress that in a later run.


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Well written and presented

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Feb 2008

The Serena deserves a much bigger audience than the six who attended opening night.  Under the assured direction of writer/director Danny Eastman for the Anduin Theatre Company (UK) – it’s always a good start for a show to have a director – the strong cast of The Serena Syndrome bring Eastman’s play to the stage with a simplicity and honesty that, although not overly dynamic, is nevertheless engaging and thought provoking. 

In the mould of an American TV soapy that at times verges on the melodramatic with the numerous scene changes often breaking the dramatic tension, it tells the story of thirteen year old Serena, told from when she is twenty years old: how a dramatic event on the eve of her thirteenth birthday changes her life; how following this she must start to put the pieces of her life back together and discover who she really is.

In the title role of Serena, Sophia Savage is excellent, showing both the precociousness and vulnerability of a young girl dealing with issues most adults would have difficulty dealing with.  And while most Fringe Festival shows are fascinating and exciting pieces of theatre, though not always able to be comprehended, it is still good to occasionally sit through a conventional play that is well written and presented which The Serena Syndrome is.


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