Review | Avalanche: A Love Story
As I sit in a full audience at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, waiting for Avalanche: A Love Story to begin, I can’t help but notice the set adorning the stage. I’m faced with the most minimalistic of contemporary theatre sets: three white walls—reminiscent of live audience sitcoms—forming a large room, a white desk made of bricks, a black chair. The designer, Marg Horwell, has created no pretence of deceiving the audience by fabricating a grand set to drag us into a different time in history, instead we are being given the message: this is a set, you are about to see a play. The staging, much like the play to follow, is beautiful, precise, and clinical.
When Avalanche begins we fittingly hear a loud rumble and a dark stage immediately is cast full of cool light to reveal our unnamed protagonist centre stage. Dressed simply in high-waisted dusty orange slacks, a simple grey button up, and blue socks—no shoes—we are introduced to a woman, played expertly by Maxine Peake, as she begins to recount her personal story. She speaks candidly to the audience, full of humour and vigour, quickly recounting tales of a past lover she met at university, Paul. The story begins to slow when we reach the point when our protagonist becomes 37, remeets and refalls in love with Paul and when they decide to try to have a child together. At this point the lighting, designed by Lizzie Powell, is full and bright, casting shadows of her lone figure that ricochet off the stark, white walls and blend into one another.
Peake has a brilliant sustenance of energy, and we’re left asking ourselves how she even has a moment to catch her breath. Her perseverance mirrors that of the character she depicts, as she traverses the stage with buoyancy and charm. The tumultuous love story she spins before us is communicated brilliantly by the writing of Julia Leigh, with lines that punch us in the gut: “His friends and family despair for him, mine for me.” Through Leigh’s careful treatment of the woman’s monologue, we come to understand the immense stress placed upon a mature couple trying to have children and how relationships can cave as a result of the very things that are propelling them forward. The woman describes how, “he doesn’t like, nor do I, how our love fucking has become under the pressure of having a child,” after the couple have a “pragmatic quickie” to try to capture a natural pregnancy during a period of peak fertility. We too feel pangs of sadness as she declares the end of their relationship with: “Some kinds of loss are very hard to name.”
The play shifts directions after her relationship crumbles, and our narrator goes on to describe her continued efforts to become pregnant via IVF, and her desires to be a single mum. At points, two children appear, unacknowledged by our protagonist: playing with dollhouses, running across the stage, taking off shoes. They act as less as characters, and more as moving props, symbolic in design. During these moments I feel myself wondering about this woman’s motivations behind so strongly desiring motherhood, and then more broadly about how society treats mothers who choose to have children at a mature age.
At a key point in the woman’s story another thunderous noise clangs through the theatre and the white walls surrounding the stage begin to rise. They continue to rise throughout the performance as the woman loses control of her situation, so slowly you barely notice. The humour fades out of the performance as we are put through the torture of seeing the woman go through round upon round of failed IVF, new doctors, inordinate amounts of wasted money, and myriad medical professionals assuring her that, “her odds are not impossible, that it’s worth a shot”. We, alongside her, become exhausted with this quest for pregnancy, she assures us: “There’s comfort in purpose.”
Under the incredible direction of Anne-Louise Sarks, Peake delivers a stunning depiction of a real woman: universally relatable, unedited, unyielding, and at times, an unreliable narrator. The final chilling scene provides us with a wildly changing set, and the final musings of a woman exhausted: it truly is an avalanche.
Avalanche: A Love Story (presented by Sydney Theatre Company) has limited performances of this must-see show left. Make sure to get tickets (concession and under 30 specials available) before they sell out here.