In their short lifespan, The Good Room has become somewhat of an Australian theatre institution. Creating incisive, moving and often hilarious verbatim theatre pieces from anonymous online submissions, their works seek to give voice to the hidden, yet common experiences of all of us.
Time and time again, they have shown their mastery at piecing together these engaging, heartfelt, harrowing and humorous submissions to tell stories of all of us on a range of themes. Their pieces have captured the unseen and unspoken. the secrets and hidden pains of those around us and people’s shared joys, hopes and dreams. Their works have touched audiences and toured the country to great acclaim.
Once again in ‘That’s What She Said’, The Good Room asks their audience to bare witness to the often unheard stories of Australians. This time, they seek to tell the stories of the women in our lives, created as a salute to the grand old broad, Metro Arts before it closed for good on 15 February 2020.
We hear about the life-changers and the women who nobody knows but you. Women who like to party and who are missing from the history books. Those who disappoint others and who get shit done. We hear about women who support each other, tear their peers down, who inspire each other and who love to drink whiskey.
We also hear stories of women who don’t often get the spotlight in mainstream media. We hear from women who don’t want to have babies and stories of women over 40 who embrace and enjoy their sexuality.
Raw, imperfect, and often hilarious, these stories are read to us by a stellar cast of Brisbane’s finest. Led by one of the greats of Australian theatre, Margi Brown Ash, and including Stella Charrington, Andrea Moor, Keira Peirce, Ngoc Phan, Naomi Price, Leah Shelton & Emily Tomlins, each story shared is truly given it’s due. Many hit like a punch in the guts.
Margi showcases once again why she is a national treasure, mixing power, vulnerability and humour effortlessly in her deliveries. Leah’s surrealist physicality is on show throughout and is given the perfect moment to shine in an unforgettable costume. Ngoc, Andrea, Emily and Naomi give us fierceness and gravitas in equal measure. Stella and Keira both provide us with a youthful energy that is a fine contrast to the experienced performers. And on top of this brilliant core cast, each night’s performance includes a guest cast of the local arts scene to breathe life into the submissions.
Unlike their recent work ‘I Just Came to say Goodbye’, which was centred on a narrative thread, ‘That’s What She Said’ focuses solely on the performers reading the stories submitted and sharing their own. They perform from what can only be described as the most ornate table read in history. The set is all red velvet, drapes and shades of pink. It is a place to honour the submissions and give them their due. Nathan Sibthorpe’s simple, but effective use of projection throughout the piece captures the diverse provocations and propels the piece forward.
But ‘That’s What She Said’ isn’t just about the anonymous submissions. Each performer shares their own stories of struggle, hope, challenges and success. Many touching on what it has been like to be women working in the arts and how Metro Arts was a part of that journey. All finishing the show with a statement about themselves as women.
This final, raw testimony from each performer is incredibly moving. Each woman shares how she sees herself and her beautiful imperfections. They open all share their pride, hopes and questions about the life they have lived. With these statements of vulnerability, there’s scant a dry eye in the house.
But within such a great performance, something in missing.
In their early works, The Good Room focused on emotions or events like love, guilt and remorse and celebration. For me, and I imagine much of the audience, this helped us to put ourselves into the story. We could all think to ourselves ‘I’ve felt this’, ‘I’ve experienced that‘, ‘I know someone like that’ and ‘I could imagine myself in that position’.
With ‘That’s What She Said’, the choice of focusing on a broad group of the population, to attempt to tell the stories of all the dames, is incredibly ambitious. How is it even possible to capture the diversity of all women in 70 minute show? With that remit, I was primed to expect to see and hear from the women of all walks of life. And unfortunately, The Good Room is not able to meet such an ambitious goal. And consequently, I find myself regularly focusing on what is missing throughout the work.
While the performers cover a range of ages, they are predominately white women who work in the arts. And it feels like the online submissions have mostly come from the networks of the Good Room. Dare I say, mostly from or about women of privilege.
Few submissions speak specifically about the women outside of these groups. There are a few exceptions to this. We hear from one woman’s journey to discovering her heritage as a Tasmanian Aboriginal. We hear from the child of refugee. But it predominantly feels like we’re hearing from white, middle-class Aussies and patrons of the arts.
I am told that time pressures played a huge part in the limitations of this piece, and so, I hope that ‘That’s What She Said’ is just the first stage of a broader development. At a minimum, The Good Room could easily create another triptych to honour the diverse experiences of women. But I think the only way they could do this could be to include outreach with diverse women’s groups to further develop the work. This would be the only way to ensure that they hear from women who didn’t have a voice in this production. If they can expand beyond sourcing online submissions from their own networks and engage a cast that reflects the diversity of women in Australia, there is potential for this to be powerful work with something to say about the experiences of all women, particularly those who don’t tend have a voice.
While expertly crafted and performed, ‘That’s What She Said’, brings to light the limitations of only using anonymous online submissions in crafting verbatim theatre pieces. Should they want to create new works to match the level of their ‘We Want To Know’ Triptych and continue their investigation of empathy, connectedness, stakes and sacrifice, they will need to consider expanding their networks and reach to better capture diverse voices and submissions for future shows.
Otherwise, they will risk not saying anything at all.
Ads J saw ‘That’s What She Said’ on 11 February 2020 at Metro Arts as a part of the ‘Metro Arts, with love’ festival.
Featuring | Margi Brown Ash, Stella Charrington, Andrea Moor, Keira Peirce, Ngoc Phan, Naomi Price, Leah Shelton & Emily Tomlins
With Guest Performers on the 11 February| Gina Limpus, Nerida Matthaei, Stephanie McLean, Sarah McLeod, Cienda McNamara, Sarah Ogden, Anne Pensalfini & Luisa Prosser
Creator / Director / Producer | Daniel Evans
Creator / Producer | Amy Ingram
Creator / Choreographer | Leah Shelton
Creator / Designer | Chloe Greaves
Creator / Dramaturg | Saffron Benner
Lighting Designer | Jason Glenwright
Production Stage Manager / Video Design | Jeremy Gordon
Assistant Stage Manager | Sarah Robertson
Original Writing | Elbow Room (Marcel Dorney with Emily Tomlins), Suzie Miller, Margi Brown Ash & Leah Mercer
Digital Design | Nathan Sibthorpe
Builder | Andrew Mills
The final quote that appears in ‘That’s What She Said’ is from ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ by Rebecca Solnit.