REVIEW: Melbourne Writers’ Theatre Presents HOW TO SURVIVE AN EARTHQUAKE

Traumatic tale powerfully realised

By Darcy Whitsed

How To Survive An Earthquake could easily be named How To Affect Your Audience With An Incredibly Sad And Harrowing Narrative. It is written by Christine Croyden and details the relationship of two estranged sisters, Stephanie (Jessica Gerger) and Jane (Sarah Plummer) after the death of their mother.

How to Survive an Earthquake

The difference in the sisters’ lives and attitudes is immediately apparent, with Stephanie returning from her duties as a UN peacekeeper to be met by Jane, a Melbournian who has given up the past few years of her life to be a full-time carer for their mother.

The actors relish in the challenge of the show, being required to transform characters, ages and places within split seconds and they achieve this with impressive ease. I did however feel as though the emotional range of the characters was only from sad to sadder to distraught. This is likely due to the content of the play but I personally would have loved to have seen some upbeat moments to contrast with and heighten the tragic ones, especially during the scenes when the sisters where reflecting nostalgically.

How To Survive An Earthquake’s director Glenda Linscott flexes her directorial muscle in the realisation of the story, utilizing lots of non-naturalistic theatrical elements and conventions.  The narrative jumps back and forth in time, displaying the sisters’ often painful memories. These transitions are effectively marked with a repeated line or moment that has a visible effect on the characters. This is extremely effective in segueing between scenes and also showing how the memories still affect the characters emotionally and physically.

The technical elements of How To Survive An Earthquake are also superbly integrated into the action. With a combination of live and pre-recorded music composed for the show, the soundscape is gorgeous. Sound designers Dom Buckham and Millie O’Sullivan both perform live from behind the audience: an extremely effective addition, with drums, guitars and other instruments being used with impeccable timing to enhance the dramatic moments of the show and cater perfectly to the audience.

The lighting designed by Jason Bouvaird is also stunning. It utilizes symbolic colours and gobo effects perfectly to mark varying time frames, flashbacks and memories throughout the story’s disjointed narrative.

Overall, this production of How To Survive An Earthquake is a technically well-rounded piece of theatre that tackles how emotional pain can stand between redemption – and forgiveness.

Location: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street Carlton

Dates: Aug 14 to Sept 1, Wed to Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm.

Tickets: $30/conc $20.

Bookings: 03 9347 6948 or