I have been obsessed with witchcraft for far too long. I knew the secret to love by the time I was five – a potion, whipped up out of Milo, soy sauce and dog food. When I was given The Wandmaker’s Guidebook for my twelfth birthday, I expressed my gratitude by whittling our ornamental pear tree into magic wands for my parents. I had a unique tactic when it came to playing the HSC game: sleep through Maths exam, prioritise interviewing Sydney’s Wiccan population.
Last Thursday night I witnessed SUDS’ Lady, written by Jess Zlotnick and directed by Shevvi Barrett-Brown. Maybe I was an easy target, hooked from the moment two witches prowled on stage, reading prophecies in the stagnant water of a bloody bathtub. But when I left the theatre I wasn’t dreaming of charms. I was dwelling upon gender roles, social status and mental health. There is depth to this play; real toil and trouble.
A loose appropriation of an (unnamable) Shakespearean tragedy, Lady foregrounds the plight of an ambitious woman, embittered by circumstance. Zlotnick recasts Lady Macbeth as a young washerwoman determined to escape small-town ennui and stifling gender expectations. Her mother tries to help in all the usual ways. When cuddling, lecturing and motherly advice all fail, she drags her daughter to the local witch. In an overgrown grove, our young lady learns about the flip-side of freedom: sacrifice.
I am all for a good ol’ re-jig of gender roles, but nothing gets me excited like a nuanced discussion. Lady needs to leave. Chosen exit strategy? Marriage. We’re left to question whether this is someone stripping the power from a biased institution by using it as a means to an end, or someone trapped. Is this empowerment or desperation? The show’s run coincides with the All About Women talks at the Opera House and International Women’s Day. Lady is part of a larger necessary conversation.
This play is packed so full of weighty content it is in danger of overflowing. However, clever sound and lighting design, some dry one-liners and compelling acting reel in potential emotional excess. Bianca Farmakis’ performance as the mother witch is especially captivating – sly and slightly sultry, but oddly nurturing, even vulnerable.
I wouldn’t call this production spellbinding. However, Lady is perfect for anyone craving the drama of a Shakespearean tragedy, who wants to sink their witchy teeth into something topical.
And if you’re still not sold…have I mentioned that there’s magic?