Review: Down to Zero, Alphabetti Theatre

Down To Zero, a new play written by Lizi Patch and presented by Coracle productions, focuses on the bewildering and destabilising process of going through the menopause. Steph (Arabella Arnott) is about to turn fifty when her partner, Sam (Brian Lonsdale), surprises her with a romantic weekend away on a canal boat. The pair travel to a secluded spot and settle in with a bottle of bubbly. But their intimate celebration is less than idyllic as the couple find themselves locked into arguments about their past. Just when everything seems to be back on track, an unexpected visitor turns up at their door. The arrival of Freya (Samantha Neale) threatens to further unsettle their relationship and forces Steph to confront parts of herself she has chosen to forget.

Steph, in particular, is well-drawn; she feels as though her life is spiraling out-of-control and that she has no say over the changes that are happening to her body. It’s unusual to see a piece of work that draws on female experience in this way. Menopause is a subject I’m yet to see represented on the stage and I think Arnott’s performance captures something of the confusion and inner-conflict that comes with aging. Steph’s insecurities about her worth as an older woman are played out with poignancy and humour.  The introduction of Freya, who is younger and fertile, is maybe a bit far-fetched. Still, it provides a convenient catalyst for the plot and makes room for important conversations around motherhood. The uncomfortable back-and-forth bickering between Steph and Sam is convincing. Lonsdale plays the part of Sam with attention to the character’s sensitivity and openness. Overall the cast pull together to paint an interesting picture of three people struggling to articulate their wants and needs.

Molly Barrett’s set design is quietly beautiful, offering inventive use of space in a small, enclosed environment.  The use of video is thoughtful and not at all intrusive as overlayed images of water help to set the scene. It also serves as an extended metaphor for Steph’s mental state; she is emotionally lost at sea. It seems appropriate that there are a series of response pieces commissioned to follow the performance, each showcasing work by  female writers in the region. Overall, Down To Zero is a sharply observed play that draws attention to a natural phenomenon widely experienced by women, but seldom explored in theatre.

Down To Zero is playing until 29 June. For more information and tickets, visit the Alphabetti Theatre website.