Jules Allen’s new play Betty covers several confronting issues including the impacts of dementia and traumatic upbringings on family relationships.
The issues come to the fore when Lucy, played by Allen, returns from overseas to care for her mother Rose (Sally McKenzie) who is suffering from several health issues including dementia.
It’s obvious the two have long had a combative relationship and during the 60-minute play, on at Melbourne’s Theatre Works, we discover the reasons for this.
We learn of Rose’s early years in Thailand and the impact a family tragedy, involving her sister Betty, had on her life.
We then discover the horrific experiences Lucy endured during her childhood which help explain the destructive and dysfunctional relationship between the two.
Adding to the trauma for both is the impact of the dementia on Rose’s words and actions and Lucy’s frustration with her mother’s behaviour.
Those dealing with loved ones suffering from even the earliest forms of memory loss associated with dementia are likely to relate to the angst experienced by both women.
One of the reasons is Betty is largely autobiographical with Allen caring for her mother in her final year of life.
At the same time the program notes state that: “Artistic license has been used to create compelling and dynamic theatre”.
However, there are many similarities between Allen’s and Lucy’s stories. Both have a Thai-English mother, have endured abuse and battled addiction to have a child at 21 and then adopted and fostered many children.
Needless to say, Allen performance as Lucy is totally believable. McKenzie also expertly portrays the frustration, confusion, fear, sadness and occasional comic moments those suffering from dementia can exhibit.
As a result of their performances and the script, Betty is realistic and often confronting.
Betty is playing at Theatre Works until February 26. Visit the Theatre Works website for tickets and more information.
*Photo credit: Cameron Grant (Parenthesy)
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Betty as a guest of the producers.
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