Review by Susie Conte
Grief – the catchphrase for this show from female-oriented Maiden Voyage Theatre Company – is weird. Toast demonstrates how three sisters deal with their grief in different ways after the death of their mother, pushing them at odds with each other. From the talented and experienced team that brought us Belated and Alone Outside, MVTC have assembled a strong female cast and crew that make this show the best thing I have seen at the Blue Room in a long time.
We walk through a superb set from Sally Phipps to our seats. We are inside a garage, filled with the detritus of a long life, with the family Christmas tree, an old esky, chairs, an ancient fridge and other remnants of the stuff we don’t want to throw away (we all have garages like this). We meet the sisters in spotlit monologues at the moment of them learning their mother has died: Candice (Alison van Reeken), the eldest, uptight and antsy; Alex (Amy Mathews) the middle sister just starting Alcoholics Anonymous; and Sydney (Anna Lindstedt), the youngest, quietest sister.
Candice takes control of the house, putting it up for sale and starting to box up the life that existed in the house. This rubs up her two sisters who believe it is all going too fast, and want to slow down to deal with their grief. The writing here is well-observed and touching: these are raw, complicated women, and theirs is a story we can all relate to. We have all been touched by grief and find ourselves not acting or reacting in the way we thought we would. Liz Newell’s writing is thoughtful and funny and director Emily McLean has a tight handle on the script. We are in capable and experienced hands.
The central performances are key. Alison van Reeken‘s Candice is high strung and unlikeable in the beginning, but her character arc brings her to a sympathetic ending. Her moment dancing to an old CD she finds in a box is a highlight. Amy Mathews’ alcoholic Alex, struggling to remain sober during these times, is a revelation in this role. She wholly inhabits the character and produces a stunning performance. A Logie award-winning actor from theatre, film and television, Amy is the absolute standout – raw and vulnerable, funny and loving. This might be the best performance on stage for the year for me. Anna Lindstedt plays Sydney, the youngest sister whose grief is deemed to be less than the others’ since she was adopted. Her turn as a shy gay young woman on the verge of adulthood is beautiful. The final cast member, Samantha Maclean, plays Gwen, the real estate agent who gets caught in the family politics playing out in real time while she is trying to sell the house.
I could relate to everything in this production, and to all of these women; that is the highest praise I can give, that all the elements in this work are human, and real, and powerful.
Toast runs until 27 May at The Blue Room Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit the Blue Room website here.