Theatre / “The Woman in the Window”, by Alma de Groen, directed by Liz Bradley. At Theatre 3 until September 21. Reviewed by Simone Penkethman
TWO women, one in Stalinist Russia and the other in a futuristic Australia, connect across time and space. Both live under constant surveillance and complete censorship. Under totalitarian rule, they are spiritually starved, deprived of connection to nature and profoundly lonely.
Beautifully paced direction, a sharp, humorous script and well rounded performances offer the Canberra Rep audience an intimate view into the two resonant worlds.
Set and costumes by Michael Sparks and Anna Senior add clarity and authenticity, juxtaposing echoes of Soviet Socialist Realism with Cyberpunk chic.
The two protagonists are historical poet Anna Akhmatova (Karen Vickery) in 1950s Leningrad and the fictional Rachel Sekerov (Zoe Swan) in an imagined future.
Written in 1998, “The Woman in the Window” pre-dates the movie “The Matrix” by one year and depicts a similar tech-driven future of unchecked machine–learning and mass human redundancy.
In Rachel’s Australia, 95 per cent of people are unemployed. The poor retreat to virtual reality while the wealthy live in space stations. Rachel is employed to please men at conferences; her current client is a poet.
During the siege of Leningrad, Anna’s poetry was a source of national inspiration. But now the all-powerful Communist state has banned her from writing and killed or imprisoned all the men in her life.
Reduced to poverty, she lives under house arrest, compelled to show herself in a window to not–so–secret police twice every day. A dour and fatalistic Russian humour permeates Anna’s world. Vickery’s mesmerising performance as Anna is enhanced by a balance of naturalistic and highly stylised staging. There is palpable chemistry between all performers in the Russian world.
While de Groen’s play stands up well to the test of time, the story-line in Rachel’s Australia seems less cohesive and convincing. Nonetheless, Swan’s Rachel is a shining light and the slow burning connection between her and Anna is played to perfection.