Sweetie welcomes audiences into the home of Grandma Josephine, your quintessential grandma with short curly grey hair, a floral apron, gumboots, reading glasses, and pockets filled with lollies.
This endearing protagonist is played by Simon Wright, who, under the direction of Cirque du Soleil’s Hayden Spencer, does a spectacular job of establishing a character that is both a parody of elderly existence, and a heartfelt tribute to growing old.
The challenges of old age are highlighted in Sweetie: mistaking the microwave for the TV, misplacing reading glasses, difficulties with the daily pill cannisters, scam callers posing as the taxation office. Each of these experiences is turned into an insightful and humorous physical theatre skit, providing comic relief to ease the discomfort around the unfortunate situations.
These skits also make for quite an absurd narrative experience, as audiences watch an elderly character who has forgotten to turn off the stove start juggling or riding a unicycle. However, these moments of physical talent from Wright reflect Grandma Josephine’s imagination and youth, reminding audiences that while she may have an ageing body and mind, she is still full of life.
Sweetie is a one-man show, and as Wright moves around the space alone, this heightens the solitude that often comes with old age. However, the performer is accompanied by an intricate set that, arguably, poses as a second character. Designed and controlled backstage by Bronwyn Pringle, this set interacts with Grandma Josephine as cupboards pop open, props spontaneously appear, and inanimate objects come to life.
The details of the set also add sentimentality to the production. On top of a cupboard there are three containers labelled “Tea”, “Coffee” and “Regrets”; a photo of a late husband sits next to the cookbooks that hold his favourite recipes; a jar full of reading glasses is overflowing next to a floral armchair – all details that evoke a melancholy feeling that can only be associated with growing old.
Opening night did present some hiccups for Wright, particularly in relation to a prop mishap, although this will no doubt be rectified for upcoming performances.
As audiences watch Grandma Josephine potter around her house between spontaneous circus acts, they are taken on a uniquely comical and poignant journey through the wonders and devastation of growing old.
Sweetie is in the Kingfisher tent at Gluttony until March 20.
Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.