The ambiguous power of naming

Jonathan Marshall

Fiona Macleod, Adrian Nunes, Scott Gooding,<BR /> Trudy Radburn, Sensitive to Noise	“></p>
<p class=Fiona Macleod, Adrian Nunes, Scott Gooding,
Trudy Radburn, Sensitive to Noise

What are the emotional and social effects of naming? What is closed off and what is revealed or liberated? The latest project from Alison Halit and Ross Mueller is an attempt to coax out of the darkness of depression and introversion a representation of post-natal depression (PND). Speaking that which resists being spoken is central to both the creation of Sensitive to Noise and its performance. Within scenarios collaboratively devised by choreographer Halit and playwright Mueller, the characters struggle to speak, communicate and find peace. The very structure of the work emphasises the power of naming, with the characters’ confusion being (partially?) resolved by a penultimate scene in which a clinical diagnosis of PND is literally spoken on stage.

The use of the term PND brought legitimacy, validation and relief to women (and men) previously ignored as simply “down” or “oversensitive”, making sense of confusing behaviours and mood swings. One should not forget the negative effects of naming however. The kaleidoscopic vignettes and monologues of Sensitive to Noise superbly depict a spiral into intra-familial dysfunction. The partner becomes an enemy or irritant whom one nevertheless depends upon and the house a claustrophobic jumble of domestic detritus (beautifully rendered by designer Kathryn Sproul through literal and symbolic objects). The relationship between the couple becomes a theatre in which the sins of their parents are replayed as they neurotically reflect the discontent of their own childhoods. But is this PND? Or more significantly, if this typically occurs with PND, does it mean that every domestic drama involving these elements is also a representation of PND? And if PND is such a protean, wide-ranging collection of symptoms, what, precisely, is achieved by naming and depicting it on stage?

In a sense, one of the most compelling yet ambiguous aspects of this production is the way it replays the very contradictions it is designed to make sense of. The doubling of text with movement, of physical action reinforcing and adding an unbearable texture to mental disassociation, renders the show itself as an extended stutter. Scenes heave one to another, as an armchair wheels about to catch characters fleeing one scenario, before vomiting them up into another equally disorientating situation. As in the symptomatology of PND, the show repeatedly asks: “How did we get here?”

Perhaps the most ambivalent element of the production is the unresolved gendering of the work. It is no accident that the most potent symbol is the increasingly mute dancer, Trudy Radburn, looking out wide-eyed at an environment that seems unfamiliar, dreamlike and daunting. Despite the introduction of men’s stories, the asymmetry between the depth of dance experience embodied by the unspeaking Radburn and the men’s greater reliance upon spoken performance replays the model of PND as women’s business (which it surely is) and a disorder in which an unreasoning female body replaces the reasoning mind. The shadow of hysteria and the awkward histories of medicine, gender and science fall heavily across the performance.

Sensitive to Noise is most impressive for its final paradoxical sleight of hand. This is the closing dance sequence involving Radburn and the tragically adorable Adrian Nunes, in which PND is reinscribed as that which forever eludes full representation in all its chameleon-like social manifestations.

Sensitive to Noise, devisors/directors Alison Halit, Ross Mueller, performers Fiona Macleod, Scott Gooding, Trudy Radburn, Adrian Nunes, design Kathryn Sproul, sound David Franzke, lighting Jen Hector, North Melbourne Town Hall, Feb 18-29, Geelong Performing Arts Centre, March 6

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 39

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to

1 April 2004