Everything about Amelia Anonymous is swathed in ambiguity.
It goes beyond the alliterative title. The narrative is a random handful of days in an ordinary life. Outside of flickers of lighting from torches and candles, the work is performed almost entirely in darkness. The nominal protagonist spends a significant portion of the work assailed by physical manifestations of contradictory thoughts. It’s a work that very consciously lives in uncertainty.
Unfortunately, that uncertainty also ends up substantially limiting the work’s ability to foster a genuine connection with an audience. For the majority of its duration, Amelia Anonymous just does not seem to have a clear idea of its own purpose. It’s too vague and impressionistic to serve as a character study or narrative and too plot-driven to work as a textural performance piece.
Seemingly as a result of this lack of focus, the creative team overburden the work with too many ideas. From a narrative standpoint, the adolescent protagonist is exploring the relationship they have with their sibling while also cultivating one of their first romances (in what is ultimately a very short play). Formally, the work crams in physical theatre, naturalism, magical realism and more.
The eclecticism and ambition is impressive, to an extent. There are moments in Amelia Anonymous that are truly memorable. A sustained moment of sitting in the rain, symbolised by blue torches flickering in the darkness over a single figure, is genuinely inspired. The warmth of the various relationships covered by the play starts to shine through beautifully towards its conclusion.
But, the over-abundance of ideas and lack of a functional focus means a lot of the work simply feels shallow and underdeveloped. The central darkness gimmick, for example, would be infinitely stronger with fewer lights, sound and characters. As it is, it only occasionally feels as powerful in practice as it does in premise. The characters themselves too often feel thinly sketched.
To be clear, either of these shortcomings would be irrelevant if the work had a clearer sense of purpose. A performative meditation on youthful uncertainty doesn’t particularly need strong, definite characters. Conversely, a kinetic narrative of richly written character interaction will inevitably outshine its stylistic trappings. But, Amelia Anonymous seemingly wants to be both. And, it suffers as a result.
Amelia Taken in its entirety, it seems to be a work built around the idea of becoming comfortable with the sheer uncertainty of life. But, as a production, Amelia Anonymous seems to lack the confidence to embrace that idea in a meaningful way. It clutters its narrative with extraneous threads and punctures each silence with new tricks when it could simply sit comfortably within its own elusion.
MJ O’Neill attended Amelia Anonymous on Sunday 11 May as part of Anywhere Theatre Festival 2019.
Images: Zac Lawrence