Review: Tiddas (La Boite Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre and Brisbane Festival)

Louise Brehmer, Shakira Clanton, Phoebe Grainer, Chenoa Deemal and Anna McMahon. Photographed by Farley Ward.

Content note: Tiddas includes coarse language, sexual references, themes of pregnancy / infertility, grief and loss, marriage breakdown, depictions of abuse (alcohol/emotional) and discussions with or containing offensive/derogatory language.

La Boite close their 2022 season with the joyful, jacaranda-hued play Tiddas, adapted for the stage by award-winning author Anita Heiss from her 2014 book of the same name. Described as a “love letter to Brisbane”, Tiddas follows a group of best friends as they navigate life, love, and literature together at their monthly book club.

Tiddas follows five women, friends since their childhood in Mudgee and now all living in Brisbane. Izzy is on track to be Australia’s Oprah, the first Blak woman with her own TV show. Nadine is a successful author, and married to Izzy’s brother. Ellen has no desire to be tied down, Xanthe is happily married and trying to start a family, and Veronica is recently divorced, finding herself again beyond her roles in marriage and motherhood. These five women come together once a month for book club and, while they do discuss the stories and ideas in their books, they also offer one another support, advice, and humour as they navigate life’s ups and downs.

Chenoa Deemal and Anna McMahon, photographed by Farley Ward

Anita Heiss describes Tiddas as a love letter to Brisbane, but this was also a love letter to female friendship, and the constant negotiation of maintaining these friendships over decades. Directed by Nadine McDonald-Dowd, Tiddas explored themes of friendship, forgiveness, and finding strength in community to make difficult decisions. As McDonald-Dowd wrote in her Director’s Note: “Tiddas is a shared Aboriginal word for sisters. Sisters are not just by blood but are created by the strong bonds of friendship and love, and often over years of lived experiences and travelled journeys.”

It was a pleasure to see a work centred on women in their late 30s and early 40s, although a great deal of their conversation was preoccupied by love, marriage, and motherhood. The play also touched on the Australian literary landscape, responsibilities to culture and community, and local and national history through the books the women discussed. The novel Tiddas was published in 2014, but the play was developed during the pandemic and included a few passing references to COVID-19.

Roxanne McDonald and Shakira Clanton, photographed by Farley Ward

The opening book club scene established the group’s history through reminiscing exposition, setting the scene of their past and current relationships. The play used short scenes, some without dialogue, to push the characters and their relationships forward and this was especially impactful in consecutive scenes with contrasting emotions. Despite the play being centred on a book club, the discussion of the books was brief, and the large cast of main characters and their parallel lives made it difficult to develop depth and emotional investment in each.

Louise Brehmer, Chenoa Deemal, Shakira Clanton, Anna McMahon and Phoebe Grainer, photographed by Farley Ward

Phoebe Grainer was a bright and bubbly Izzy, and Shakira Clanton was self-assured and heartbreaking as Xanthe. Chenoa Deemal played the role of sharp-witted Ellen, delivering her suggestive one-liners with emphatic humour, and Anna McMahon played Veronica, ever the peacekeeper and the one to call book club to order. Louise Brehmer brought intense emotion and aloofness to the role of Nadine, and Roxanne McDonald was both comfortingly maternal and bitingly funny as Noon / Mum. Sean Dow did an outstanding job alternating between five roles, with lightning-fast costume changes and smooth transitions between accents and characterisations.

Roxanne McDonald, Chenoa Deemal, Anna McMahon, Phoebe Grainer, Shakira Clanton, Louise Brehmer, and Sean Dow, photographed by Farley Ward

Set and costume design by Zoe Rouse captured the essence of Brisbane in spring, from the jacaranda branch suspended above the stage to the Queenslander-style verandah. Each character was clearly associated with a colour palette, which extended from their costuming to the way that they interacted with different sections of the set. The audience was seated around three sides of the stage, and a downstage revolve was used to indicate changing locations. Props and small set pieces indicated the passing of time and the cast managed these, as well as the revolve, in a very natural way.

Sean Dow and Chenoa Deemal, photographed by Farley Ward

Lighting design by Jason Glenwright and sound design by Wil Hughes contributed to the atmosphere and storytelling – the lighting and staging of a three-way FaceTime call was especially memorable – and the show’s soundtrack included a range of songs from Thelma Plum’s new Meanjin EP.

Tiddas is a sweet and uplifting play, set close to home and celebrating the challenges and joys of lifelong friendships with heart and humour.

Tiddas will play at the Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove, from 5 – 24 September 2022.

For ticketing and further information, visit the La Boite website

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