‘Stuff’, penned by Sylvia Dow, had its world premiere on the 6th at the Traverse Theatre. The story of how mothers and daughters relate to one another, nestled amongst the crowded house of a hoarder, is a poignant ode to a mother’s love and the comfort that human beings find in material things.
The play follows Croatian-born Magda (Carol Ann Crawford), a woman who suffers from hoarding disorder. Her opera singer mother (Rosemary Nairne) implemented music into her life at a young age, something that Magda passes on to her own daughter Chrissie (Romana Abercromby). Social worker Jackie (Pauline Lockhart) often visits Magda, and offers her advice upon the news that the council will come to clear Magda’s house of the things she has collected.
The performances from the four women who make up the cast are stellar. I particularly enjoyed Lockhart’s portrayal of a support worker trying not to cross a line with a client who has clearly suffered so much. The scenes between her and Crawford feel incredibly believable. Of note too is Nairne, who floats around the stage singing opera arias, unheard by all but Madga. Accompanied by the sound effect of shortened breath, she is a haunting presence both in Madga’s life and in the story.
Sylvia Dow describes the show as ‘a play about mothers and daughters, but seen through the prism and context of hoarding’. Once it becomes clear that Magda’s hoarding stems from the grief over her mother’s murder and husband’s abandonment, the pain inflicted by Chrissie failing to keep in touch once she leaves for university is jarring.
Madga’s hoarding is not depicted through a cluttered stage, as some may expect. Indeed, the space is almost too small to have such a set. Instead, the room is depicted in dioramas in cardboard boxes, illuminated by a lightbulb and small lights.
This was very effective. At various stages in the story, they are turned to the audience and lit up to accompany the scene. One depicts a grey, messy room, full of clutter. Another is red, the lightbulb splattered with paint, a mishmash of gravestones, and Croatian scrawled on the back. Towards the end, a tidier, albeit still full room is depicted, leaving the audience with a sense of hope about Madga’s future. Indeed, the story ends before we know if Madga is able to get through the clearing of her house, but it certainly seemed to me to end on a positive note.
PHOTOS: Traverse Theatre