By Bridget Hackett
It was clear from the moment The Disappearing Trilogy began that I had picked the wrong show. Let me be clear, I am no theatre expert. My repertoire starts with a bit of modernised Shakespeare and the odd musical or two. For me, the story needs to be clear from start to finish, otherwise I get lost and bored. And The Disappearing Trilogy was just a little too far outside my expertise.
Without spoiling too much, the show features Monash University PhD candidate Suzie Hardgrave, in a solo show constructing a somewhat erratic narrative of an actress attempting to display and express her own identity on and off the stage. In the somewhat lost character that Hardgrave portrays, the performance delves deep into the psyche of an actress under intense strain to conform and perform to Western ideals of woman hood.
The messages about gender, femininity and performance were particularly compelling for me. While the performance made a specific example of the performance of an actress in roles devoid of her identity, its critique has wider connotations for a much broader ideal of woman hood. “The actress” is caught up in her roles, suggesting that her performance of a particular role expands from on stage, to off the stage. Like a puppet, she plays her part in society, smiling when told to, and recounting the correct lines to construct an identity different from her own. When her identity does come through and she goes off script, it’s a bad show with bad reviews, and eventually disappears as an actress, and as a woman. And much like many women, she finds herself trapped in a loop of fake performances with fake identities.
While I found the message compelling, I found its execution a little self-absorbed. Solo performances, particularly ones with messages such as this one, run the risk of telling one person’s story as if they have the licence to generalise the broader experience of a particular group of people. Hardgrave portrays “the actress” without agency or strength to change her circumstance. She is just a puppet, for her director to direct, and for society to mould. A victim. This is certainly not how many women may wish to be portrayed.
Despite my issues with the way in which the message was conveyed, Hardgrave’s performance was commendable. 70 minutes of monologue is no small feat. Nor should the message discount the simple but compelling set and costume design. Nevertheless, I will be sticking to Shakespeare and the odd musical from now on.