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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Almighty Sometimes (MTC), at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner - 2 hours 30 minutes, including a 20-minute interval

At age eight, Anna (Max McKenna) was writing brilliant, highly creative, if dark stories. She was a very bright little girl.

 

Upon reflection, a decade on, she regards that as indicative of being a child prodigy.

 

Her mother Renee (Nadine Garner) though had real concerns.

Photos by Pia Johnson


When Anna was on a high, her energy and enthusiasm lit up a room, but when she was down, she was withdrawn, angry and argumentative.

 

Anna was and still is in the grip of mental illness.

 

For the last seven years, she has been seeing psychiatrist Vivienne (Louisa Mignone), who has had her on medication to control her mood swings.

 

Now at age 18, highly intelligent Anna wants off the meds, but Viv makes it clear going cold turkey is not the answer and can lead to problems.

At the same time, Anna lands a caring and considerate boyfriend, Oliver (Karl Richmond).

 

He went to the same school as her and was taught by her mother, a teacher.

 

Anna’s roller coaster ride through her short life, which was punctuated by the death of her father, is about to take a turn for the worse.

 

Her mum struggles to cope and Oliver is caught in the maelstrom, which, frustratingly for Anna, includes writer’s block.

Winner of the NSW and Victorian Premiers’ Literary Awards, The Almighty Sometimes is the debut work of playwright Kendall Feaver.

 

As she writes in the program notes, she finished her first draft in 2013, when she was just a few years older than Anna.

 

At the time, media headlines were preoccupied with a so-called medication ‘epidemic’, with her generation – Y – the most medicated cohort to date.

 

That, in turn, brought into sharp focus that many young adults were facing the issue of medical consent.

In writing the piece, imbued with humour and pathos, Feaver – who has faced her own mental health struggles – undertook extensive research.

 

She has a remarkable grasp of the human condition, its strengths and vulnerabilities, which she uses with authenticity and conviction.

 

Max McKenna puts in a bravura showing as the dynamic and destructive Anna. It is a magnificent, if disturbing, depiction of the ongoing travails inherent in mental illness.

 

McKenna is not alone in terms of impressive performance. All the actors excel.

Nadine Garner is forever walking a tightrope as a helicopter parent who cares deeply and gets constant blowback.

 

Anna ensures her shrink, Viv, is continually under pressure – never more so than when she questions Viv’s right to publish a book in which Anna is front and centre.

 

Louisa Mignone is adept at realising the professional demands on her character. Getting too close and not overstepping the mark is always a challenge.

 

And then there is Oliver, who gets more than he signed up for after reconnecting with Anna. Already a carer for his father, what he witnesses gives him major cause for concern.

 

Karl Richmond’s empathetic portrayal of Oliver is compelling.

A spartan set design by Jacob Battista, who is also responsible for costuming, see a revolving wall positioned at the centre of the stage.

 

The wall is broken into sections, representing rooms of the home where Anna lives with her mother.

 

First time MTC director Hannah Goodwin has deftly captured the complexities of the fraught issues at the centre of this enthralling coming of age story.

 

The Almighty Sometimes may be fictitious, but it feels painfully real and is deeply rooted in a multitude of actual experiences.

 

Two and a half hours, including a 20-minute interval, it is a superb, insightful and nuanced production.

 

It is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 18th May, 2024.

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