Review: Subject Mater at Paradise in the Vault

This feels like a discovery. Performed on the tiniest of stages in front of three rows of seats, Nadia Cavelle’s three-hander is an exquisite example of what an inventive Fringe company can do with minimal resources. It’s elegantly presented, precisely performed and draws you into its quirky theatrical landscape with an assurance that belies both the scale of the show and the company’s experience.

Performed by Cavelle with Zachary Fall and Lorna Nickson Brown, it presents the other side of a Mad Men world of thrusting male advertising execs, showing instead a young mother who finds herself alone and struggling with the expectation to keep house and home together. She looks and sounds like the ideal housewife. Speaking English in a heavy French accent, at once melodic and alienating and littered with curious phrases, she is primly presented, always looking her best. On the counters around her, gorgeously lit by lightning designer Simeon Miller, are the symbols of an affluent lifestyle in the consumer boom of the post-war era.

But these trappings are trapping her. The toaster with its clean lines and rounded design is speaking to her in the hectoring voice of her husband, an offstage figure who sees her only as a domestic servant. The jugs of juice represent her children, good-looking, demanding and thankless in their own way. The performance is a ritual in which those children try to connect with this woman whose immaculate, ever-positive appearance is a mask for her inner despair.

It’s not the first time this subject has been tackled, and there’s something less immediate about such a young company taking on a story from a previous generation, but in Oliver Dawe’s production for Woven Voices, it is authoritatively done. Cavelle’s writing is crisp and spare, keeping you ever intrigued by this perfect-looking world with its sad, imperfect heart. 

Subject Mater, Paradise in the Vault, until 17 Aug, 6.20pm

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