Review: North of Eight’s Philtrum alerts us to another side of #metoo

Kicking off its second season, North of Eight presents Anthea Greco’s Philtrum at The Portable in Brunswick.  This raw and honest two-act play follows a salt-of-the-earth family who are forced to rewrite their defining history when someone lifts the finger off the philtrum.

The play opens around the dinner table as a typical family gathering commences.  Amongst the chaotic atmosphere, personalities are defined: Dad is a strongly opinionated, traditional king of his castle; Mom, over the years, is exhausted at maintaining the diplomatic calm within the household; and children (two daughters and a son) who didn’t necessarily live up the perfect expectations their parents hoped for.  Suddenly a knock on the door welcomes the unexpected arrival of the middle child, Cathy (adorably played by Jessica Martin with great spunk) who introduces her boyfriend, Rob (James Cerche) to the family. Suspicions begin to mount that Cathy has something even more to reveal about her and Rob but to avoid the conflict she passes the attention onto one of her other siblings’ faults.  

Once alone, Tom (portrayed with such innocence by Louis Corbett) confides in his sister Cathy that he’s been physically assaulted by the patriarch.  

Following a well-choreographed stage transition, the second act begins with the start of the legal trial between father and son.  Throughout the trial set up, family members are challenged to take a side - to either support their son/brother who has proclaimed to suffer extensive trauma from multiple assaults, or the husband/father/head of the house.

Greco’s text does a nice job to present thorough legal proceedings for a case like this.  Emma Choy, who plays Christine, is both compassionate and professional in her role to monitor the family emotions in dealing with the stress of the case.  Equally compelling is Annie Standford who transitions from a composed and encouraging matriarch into a heartbroken, blindsided, speechless rot who is torn between the two most important men in her life.

North of Eight does the audience a great service to present such a story that is relevant in our time yet difficult to address.  Amongst today’s #metoo movement this play forces us to accept that sexual assault does not discriminate against gender or family circumstances.  Greco’s writing is raw and honest. Peter Blackburn’s direction magnificently captures the awkwardness of presenting this difficult topic by moving the ensemble around a small space cornering characters at appropriate times and placing characters behind furniture as if shrinking them from their vulnerabilities.

Even so, for my second experience of a North of Eight production I remain eager to see more of their season.  North of Eight continues to do a terrific job delivering relevant and poignant theatre that literally, and figuratively, hits home.

Philtrum continues its run at The Portable until 29 July.  For tix and more information, visit www.northofeight.com.au.