La Boite has kicked off its 2021 season with the world premiere of Naked & Screaming, a new Australian family drama by award-winning playwright Mark Rogers. Directed by Sanja Simić and performed in the round, the work is a rapid-fire rollercoaster that seeks to explore the fear and uncertainty of new parenthood and to comment on the gendered aspects of physical and mental labour in parenting and domestic relationships more broadly.
Jackson McGovern and Emily Burton in La Boite’s Naked & Screaming. Photo © Morgan Roberts
Naked & Screaming follows young couple Emily and Simon over the first year of their child’s life. When a work opportunity calls Simon to Los Angeles, Emily is left alone with three-month old baby Dylan. Isolated, overwhelmed, and in a haze of sleep deprivation after spending all night lulling him to sleep on a train, she accidentally gets off without him. This incident is the beginning of a downward spiral for Emily and Simon as accusations are made, communication breaks down, and trust disintegrates into suspicion and resentment.
Naked & Screaming illustrates the importance of robust support systems and post-natal care for new parents and highlights the idea that equality in a relationship and in parenting is not a state of stasis to be achieved but an ongoing process of negotiation and mutual support. Edge-of-your-seat moments are cleanly and cleverly interspersed with tender glimpses of family life as Simon and Emily delight in their son, monitor his development, celebrate milestones, and struggle to maintain a semblance of their pre-baby lives and selves.
The play bumps up against a number of other issues – parenting and custody laws, the maze of conflicting parenting advice available online, and the trope of the “mad woman”. The play briefly touches on mental health and the stigma of seeking professional help, but ultimately this thread of the play hits a dead-end as it seems to present Simon with an excuse not to contribute equally, even as Emily struggles with her intrusive thoughts and continues to shoulder the majority of the domestic labour. Naked & Screaming explores the expectations of unpaid and invisible labour that tend to be automatically assigned to mothers, the prioritisation of fathers in terms of career progression and opportunities, and the value and validity that is placed (or not) on parenting as a full-time job.
Emily Burton and Jackson McGovern in La Boite’s Naked & Screaming. Photo © Morgan Roberts
Rogers’ script is funny, dark, tender, and terrifying; there were a number of moments in the play where tensions reached a boiling point, only to suddenly swing the play and its characters in a new direction. Despite the expertly crafted tension and release, and the heart-wrenching conclusion of the play, a few loose ends were left hanging; Emily’s relationship with her mother is hinted at throughout the play but never meaningfully realised, and references to a sudden change of location and employment in the final scene distracts from its emotional poignancy.
Naked & Screaming is a work of short scenes and abrupt changes, brief bursts of emotion and sudden pivots that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Emily Burton and Jackson McGovern both delivered riveting performances in this tense two-hander, masterfully managing the changes of scene and tone, moving smoothly through the highly physical blocking, and commanding the audience’s attention for every moment they stood onstage.
Lighting design by Ben Hughes and composition and sound design by Guy Webster were used in subtle but effective ways to create and abruptly change the setting and scene. Set and costume design by Chloe Greaves was versatile and visually engaging, with a huge baby mobile suspended over the stage and a clear division of space between “home” and “away”.
Naked & Screaming seeks to examine the dynamics of power in parenting and relationships through the lens of gender, and the resulting work is fast-paced, emotionally gripping, and brilliantly performed.
Naked & Screaming plays at the Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane, until 27 February