Anna Robi & the House of Dogs | Tamarama Rock Surfers & House of Dogs
The lady who takes my pre-loved “ticket” when I descend the stairs at the Old Fitz, warns me to be careful where I tread when crossing the stage. Covered in scattered newspapers – fringed by piles and piles of clutter – the theatre is like the bottom of a budgie cage – except it’s not budgies that live here, there is hard (well, soft actually…) evidence that dogs inhabit this space.
A woman in a neck brace, a neck brace supported by a snooze cushion sleeps in a well-worn beige bed. A girl in torn cartoon pyjamas and a t-shirt emblazoned with “I’m about to do something AWESOME!” on it, scuffs around in old slippers, cracking opening a can of Chum, picking up sticky dog turds off the newspaper.
Nurse maid and bed fellow to her bitter, vulgar bed-ridden mother, Anna Robi dreams of a Doris Day fantasy wherein Roger- the anonymous heavy-breathing spam-slammer on the end of a cordless phone, rescues her from her life. Sexually frustrated, stuck in a stamp-licking day job she spends her time papering over the accidental pisses of her mother and a collection of mongrel dogs.
This is an incredible production of Maxine Mellor’s new play. Iain Sinclair has masterfully created a world of dank, desperate, grotesque horror. Designers Teegan Lee (Lighting), Steve Toulmin (Sound), Tobhiyah Feller (Set/Costume) with puppets (by Meg Ashforth & Jemima Snars) create an all too possible hell. Jeanette Cronin is horrifyingly compelling as Mother, and Stefanie Smith is brilliant as the trapped, naieve and enthusiastic Anna. Dean Mason is a delightful dream that descends into a nasty brown stain of a man.
Most impressive of all is Mellor’s writing – brutal, shocking, disgusting, surprising and visceral- she goes there. This isn’t some soft and comfortable domestic Australian story – this is big. Epic observations on gender, sex, lust, men, female urges, mother/daughter dynamics, female body parts, masturbation, dependency, fantasy. We laugh at the descriptions and the images of this world- we recoil at the biological descriptions of a seeping, leaking wound that never heals – the baseness of the lipstick dick of the dog – the mother who demands Garbo brows and geisha lips and the junk mail catalogues. The horror rings true. The struggle of it all. The dirty, smeared, the torture of having no where better to go – like waiting for Godot, but waiting to lose your virginity to a mumma’s boy pervert. With similar psychological torture to that of Bette Davis in “Whatever happened to baby Jane?” laced with occasional wins for Anna – the brilliance lies in the casting – Smith and Cronin are evenly matched – sparking, snarling, spitting, howling at each other.
It’s no wonder Mellor has two shows on in Sydney at the moment (catch her other play Desiree Din and the Red Forest at ATYP until Dec 4th)- and a bag full of produced plays to her name… she is one of the most remarkable writers of this generation – Brutal, brave and authentically, unapologetically unique.