Grim Tale No Child's Play

The Age

Monday November 10, 2008

Martin Ball

THEATRE REVIEW: SPINNING STRAW By Kate Herbert,

La Mama,

November 7, until November 15.

Running time: 70 minutes.

www.lamama.com.au

BEARING and raising children is a daunting process at the best of times. In Spinning Straw, Melbourne writer Kate Herbert explores how overwhelming the task can become when the mother is a habitual drug user.

Annie (Julia Markowski) is a teenage wildcat whose prospects extend only as far as her next binge on booze, dope or blow. Her sense of abjection is evident in her preference to be called "Pig". She has already borne one child who has been taken into care, and when she falls pregnant again, she is tempted to sell the next baby on the internet.

Her neighbour, Marg (Jenny Lovell), will have none of it, however, cajoling Pig to take more care of herself, and insinuating herself into Pig's life to the extent that she ends up delivering the child herself.

Marg is no disinterested Samaritan, however. She, too, had a child taken from her by Social Services, and as a reformed alcoholic she is determined that Pig's baby will receive proper love and care.

This scenario is very Home and Away, yet Herbert introduces another layer through the Grimms' fairytale Rumpelstiltskin, narrated by Geoff Wallis. This is the story of the miller's daughter who is set the task of spinning straw into gold, and accepts the help of a strange little man, making a diabolical bargain of giving him her first-born child.

This is a tightly written show. The various themes of drug use and child-selling are gestured to rather than developed in detail; this keeps the pace brisk but makes the characters a little stereotypical.

Herbert nevertheless gives Pig and Marg each a poignant soliloquy, allowing the actors to express themselves fully. Julia Markowski shows good range and depth here, and Jenny Lovell brings out the suppressed pain and longing and Marg's sense of loss.

Spinning Straw is a didactic fable about skewed morality amid habitual drug use.

© 2008 The Age

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