It’s 9:30 on a Friday night and I am in Pembroke New Cellars with a wad of tissue stuffed in my pocket. I know what I am about to see is going to be hard to watch, and I want to be fully prepared.
It was Finty Hunter’s new play: Dead Parents Society. As the name obviously suggests, it was a difficult, emotional watch that was incredibly beautifully done.
The set was cleverly constructed: the audience is seated in a large circle spanning the entire auditorium when the counsellor, Todd, walked in and suggested we should all start by introducing ourselves. Before I properly had the chance to panic about the possibility of me failing to realise that this was an interactive play, the cast stood, having been dispersed amongst unwitting audience members, and formed their own circle in the centre of the room.
For the next hour, their individual heartbreaks unfolded, as each had lost a parent. Their tragedies differed – cancer, suicide, car crash – and each individual character is strongly and fiercely maintained throughout the production. From Iris Li’s heart-wrenching, utterly quiet, and completely guilt-ridden Emily, to Olivia Sydney Mills’ uncomfortably jittery and lost Lily. Victoria Zanotto executed an incredibly loud and angry Sam in solid harmony with Sam Drysdale’s complicated and confused James.
The discourse that ensued at repeated counselling sessions slowly revealed the individual stories of the characters, in tandem to the unravelling of their relationships with each other. The notion that they were related by this common fact of losing a parent, yet different in so many ways was constantly grappled with. Were they all messed up by what had happened to them? Were their inherently divergent tragedies really comparable? Was it a help or a hindrance to be surrounded by people who ‘got it’, or would anyone else every truly understand what you go through personally?
As a cast, they were dynamic, and in conjunction with Hunter’s writing the play flowed successfully: from heavy moments of reflective grief, followed by sharp, confronting outbursts of rage. This was complemented well by Xiaofei Lei’s lighting work.
Beyond the obvious quality of the acting and writing, it was difficult to assess the Dead Parents Society as a person who has been lucky enough to have never faced grief in all my twenty-one years. I was afraid I would be unable to connect with the production, or feel like an imposter in a situation no one could possibly understand who had not experienced it themselves.
This potential reality is overcome not only in the seamless weaving of more realistically relatable themes throughout – from Alfred Leigh’s darkly funny portrayal of a counsellor, constantly asking ‘but what do you mean by that?’ or ‘and how does that make you feel?’, to Emily’s dating life and Sam’s break up – but in the wonderfully poignant final line of the play: ‘remember you’re not alone, we’re all grieving something’.
In that moment of stillness, the audience was united in a shared bond. We all love and the thought of losing those loved ones is unthinkable. Yet, although we may not be members of the ‘Dead Parents Society’, everyone is fighting their own battles, and to a degree, everyone suffers.
I left Pembroke clutching my tissues, unlocking my phone and immediately ringing my mum. This play made me feel and made me think, and although it was tough to watch, it was poignantly written and performed and I would certainly recommend it. With her first play, Hunter is definitely one to watch.