In 2013, Adelaide literary and musical luminary Anna Goldsworthy published her second memoir, Welcome to Your New Life, which was accompanied by a splash of high praise. Author Anna Funder called the writing “laser-acute and funny and moving”.
Having truncated and transcribed the book for this State Theatre Company South Australia production, Goldsworthy’s words remain just as sharp.
When Anna discovers she’s pregnant, she is happy, nervous, curious, excited – all the beautiful emotions a woman in a stable relationship, with the full support of friends and family, might feel. Although she’s not overwhelmed by her cravings and birth-plan options, or the fact that the baby inside her has grown teeny-tiny ribs, she recognises life is changing and she no longer has control over it.
Then the baby comes, and her loss of control couples with a loss of sleep: a recipe not for disaster, but for fear and self-doubt. This is the stuff even the best mothers experience, though that doesn’t make life any easier for those in the midst of it.
Anxiety for new mothers is real and can be a tremendous hardship, yet the aim of Welcome to Your New Life seems to make light while shining light on it. As Anna, Erin James (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress AACTA for her role in the film The Little Death), is bubbly and on-point in her wonder and distress, as are the two ever-changing characters played by SA-based actors Kathryn Adams (Dido and Aeneas) and Matt Crook (Top End Wedding).
Together, the trio prove that heavily animated interpretations are a fine-tuned art. The fact that Adams and Crook affect low and high tones as they swap from male to female roles isn’t as distracting as one might think; rather, it’s a credit to director Shannon Rush’s unpretentious mood, as is the choice to not showcase a growing belly. Rush most recently acted as assistant director of the stage production of Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words – another book by another beloved South Australian – and I’m hoping there’s a future in this set-up for her.
The sunny tone is also represented in Simon Greer’s set design, which resembles a simple, uncluttered Play School scheme, complete with large, lettered building blocks as seats. The set subtly loses some of its cheerful colour after intermission, once the baby is born, and in a deft move Anna’s unease begins to crowd her.
Musical director Alan John’s compositions embrace the joy and humour of everything baby, although more might have been made of the fact that Goldsworthy is a classical pianist – one of Australia’s best. By stepping away from the traditional showtune and adopting a more elegant style, as per Goldsworthy’s repertoire, the music could have been character-building during Anna’s stress level rises or as she grapples with grief. At the right moment, with James on the piano, that turn in music could have cast a stunning shade on the cheery stage, creating something emotionally complex and unexpected.
Told in second person, the “you” Anna addresses is the baby, so when James looks out to the audience, we are the baby. As a literary device in the memoir, this works as an ode or letter to Goldsworthy’s first child. As a theatrical device, it’s inventive and creates intimacy, and with Gavin Norris’s lighting broadly illuminating the audience in such a way that we’re consistently and clearly able to see one another, Welcome to Your New Life truly lends itself to a familial vibe.
Welcome to Your New Life is playing at the Space Theatre until November 25, with a baby-friendly performance on November 16.
Read InReview’s recent interview with Anna Goldsworthy here.
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