Nine Foot Nine by Alex Wood (as part of Breaking Out)
Mondays and Thursdays at 20:30 until 7th July
Runs 1 hr, no interval
Veronica Stein, 16th June, 2018
An ambitious weaving of domestic and global issues
Cara is pregnant with her partner Nate’s child. Everything is going according to plan- until suddenly, women around the world start ‘sprouting’ to far beyond normal human height. The switch has been flipped and women hold physical dominance. Cara is one of them. Sixteen years later, her daughter Sophie is too.
Nine Foot Nine is ambitious in its attempt to follow in the footsteps of our best plays by weaving together domestic narratives with those of the wider world. The main conflict of Sleepless Theatre Company’s Piece is derived from Cara’s involvement with international ‘Sprouter’ movements and how it impacts her family and daughter. Though many scenes carry weight and resonate, they are not altogether impactful. The familial aspect is more thoroughly executed than the larger implications of this rapid resizing- though clever voiceovers boast and rebuke the effects in humorous fashion. The message Sleepless wants to express is that physical dominance is the reason for patriarchal power structures, and it’s delivered initially but struggles to develop in a thought-provoking way. Dominance isn’t guaranteed as evidenced by the presence of global riots, and the feminist edge of the piece is undercut by having many women never ‘sprout’ at all.
The three performers have brilliant chemistry. Alexander James (Cara) and Paul O’Dea (Nate) set the tone of the piece with an intimate window into the couple’s discovery of their pregnancy. Their mixture of spoken and signed communication adds texture to the piece, and O’Dea’s performance remains relatable through to the end- he also seems to successfully age with this character, which is aided by Wood’s dialogue that is it’s best in its most unpredictable scenes. Natalie Kimmerling more than musters the required angst necessitated by Sophie’s age and circumstances and shines when Sophie is most vulnerable. Verity Johnson and Jessica Hung’s work (design and lighting design respectively) proffer a futuristic, multi-colored shadow-boxy set, which is aesthetically pleasing and especially effective in transitions, but stands to be more connected to the text itself.
Nine Foot Nine seeks to answer a simple question- what if women were the larger sex? It succeeds in creating a family drama and in shining a light on inclusive casting, certainly. It also answers the question, but could be stronger in their resolve to explore it. Sleepless Theatre Company shows great promise in tackling relevant issues with an interesting gaze, and their future will be bright with some refocusing.
Cara: Alexander James
Sophie: Natalie Kimmerling
Nate: Paul O’Dea
Director: Helena Jackson
Designer: Verity Johnson
Lighting Designer: Jessica Hung
Sound Designer: Nicola Chang
Photo by Katie Edwards