By Kendall FeaverDramaCurrency Press, in association with Griffin Theatre Company

The Almighty Sometimes

Anna has been medicated for a range of mood and behavioural disorders for as long as she can remember. Now she wants to know what life would be like without pills and prescriptions. More fulfilling? More exciting? More real?

As Anna tries to find out who she really is, her mother, Renee, remains determined to protect her. She can’t bear to watch her daughter go through the anguish all over again, to throw it all away for a personal experiment – but Anna’s treatment is no longer her decision. 

Winner of the Judges’ Award in the prestigious Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting (UK), Kendall Feaver’s captivating play is a profound and compelling study of a young woman trying to discover where her illness ends and her identity begins. Directed by the Helpmann Award-winning Lee Lewis, it’s a quick-witted and bracingly honest take on the difficult choices you make in your child’s best interests, and what happens when you no longer have a say.

Portrait of Kendall Feaver

Kendall Feaver

Kendall won a Judges’ Award at the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting – the largest playwriting competition in Europe – for her play, The Almighty Sometimes. The play was first produced to critical acclaim at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, and enjoyed a second successful production at Griffin Theatre Company, Sydney. The Almighty Sometimes went on to win ‘Best New Play’ at the 2018 UK Theatre Awards and earned Kendall a nomination for ‘Best Writer’ at The Stage Debut Awards.

Previously, she has been shortlisted for the Griffin Award, the Max Afford Playwright’s Award and was Highly Commended for the State Library of NSW’s Mona Brand Emerging Writer Award. Kendall has been invited on attachment at the National Theatre Studio and the Bush Theatre, London. She is currently under commission to Manhattan Theatre Club in New York and is the recipient of the 2018 Philip Parsons Fellowship with Belvoir Theatre Company in Sydney.

Judges’ report

Kendall Feaver enters the perilous realms of mental illness for her strikingly original play, The Almighty Sometimes. Her protagonist, Anna, is a young woman who has been diagnosed with an illness like bipolar disorder since childhood. As a child she wrote precociously brilliant, disturbing stories. These stories are interspersed through the play as Anna attempts to rediscover her early talent as a writer. She blames her prescribed drugs for her inability to write, and decides to stop taking them.

Through Anna’s voice, and her interactions with her mother, Renee; her psychiatrist, Vivienne; and her boyfriend, Oliver; Kendall explores the effects and ramifications of mental illness with sensitivity and care and draws a complex picture of the inadequacies of our approaches to mental health. At the centre is Anna’s shifting relationship with Renee, which is beautifully drawn.

The Almighty Sometimes is ostensibly a family drama, but Kendall skilfully uses this recognisable form as a springboard to a less conventional dramaturgy, permitting the complexities she canvasses. The result is a harrowing and moving play that gives us the full realities of each of its characters and remains truthful to each of them.

Extract

ACT ONE

VIVIENNE:   (reading) When the girl was old enough to walk, she began to float, two or three inches above the ground, and then higher and higher until her head hit the ceiling and her mother had to buy an extra-extendable ladder just to bring her down. “You must keep it a secret,” the neighbours said, so the mother tied a piece of string from the girl’s hand to her own, and let down the bottom of every skirt, so no one could see the space between the shoes and the floor.     

One day, the mother forgot to lock the kitchen drawer, and the girl found a knife, a big knife, the best knife, for old bread and tough legs of ham, and she dragged it down her body, top to bottom, opening herself like a leather bag. She stepped out of her skin and kicked it away, where it hit the wall – splat! – and slithered to the ground. The mother tried to catch her daughter but there was nothing there to hold on to.

“Look up, look up, look up,” the little girl said, and she flew around her mother, and did somersaults in the air, and walked along the clothesline, and made silly faces at the window, while the mother cried, and the skin turned to slush in her hands.


ANNA:           Do you want something to eat?

OLIVER:        No I’m good, thanks.

ANNA:           You sure? I can totally get you something to eat.

OLIVER:        Nah, I’m ok.

ANNA:           You must be starving – only thing Izzy put out was a bowl of chips.  

OLIVER:        Had dinner before I left, so.

ANNA:           That was like five hours ago.

OLIVER:       And that’s a long time, is it?

ANNA:           I mean … not for everyone.

OLIVER:        No?

ANNA:           Not if you’re like – I don’t know – a camel herder.

OLIVER:        A camel herder? 

ANNA:           You know: wandering across the Sahara Desert. I bet those guys hardly ever stop to eat.

OLIVER:        Sure, I mean, I guess that’s true–

ANNA:           Or maybe you’re a member of a strict religious community where like a fundamental rule of your ancient belief system is that you periodically starve yourself. Or maybe you’ve been arrested for drug smuggling so you’re sitting in this overcrowded jail that hasn’t subscribed to any declaration of basic human rights, but for everyone else…yeah…five hours is a long time.

            She hands him a bowl of stew.

Do you want some?

OLIVER:        What is it? 

ANNA:           My Mum made it. It’s got eggplant in it. Tomatoes and vinegar too. It’s been in the fridge for three days now, and I know that sounds horrible, like borderline offensive, but something kind of magical happens to it, and I’m not sure if it’s meant to – like it’s a dish that requires some Jesus-like resurrection before it gets going – or maybe Mum’s got so much vinegar in there it’s basically embalming itself – whatever the reason, it genuinely gets better the longer it’s sat there.

Do you want some?

OLIVER:        No, I’m uh, I’m still ok … thanks.

ANNA shrugs and continues eating it herself. OLIVER takes a few moments to look around the room.       

OLIVER:        So …   

ANNA:           So …

OLIVER:       You live with your Mum then?

ANNA:           What makes you say that?

OLIVER:        She’s still cooking for you, so …

ANNA:           She likes to cook.

OLIVER:        Just lets herself in and– 

ANNA:           Sure.

OLIVER:        Ok … what about the house?

ANNA:           What about it? 

OLIVER:        It’s nice.

ANNA:           Nice?

OLIVER:        Classy. 

ANNA:           And … what? You don’t think I’m– 

OLIVER:        No, no, I do–

ANNA:           Because I can be classy– 

OLIVER:        In like twenty years, yeah. In twenty years you’ll be so classy.

ANNA:           And now?

OLIVER:        Now? I dunno. Now you’re not supposed to have things like that – (points) – whatever that thing is.

ANNA:           It’s a diffuser. (Beat) Makes the room smell nice?

OLIVER:        That’s what deodorant’s for.

ANNA:           Deodorant’s for under your arms. 

OLIVER:        Sure, but when you’re finished there, you spray a bit of it round the room – freshens it right up, doesn’t it? (Wanders a bit; stops) Also: you have a bunch of photos on the wall of you as a baby, so if it’s just you living here, that’s a bit fucking weird.           

            ANNA grins. 

OLIVER:        Is your Mum here now?

ANNA:            Asleep, yeah.  

OLIVER:        How far away is she?

ANNA:            Like, in feet, or– 

OLIVER:        No, just … roughly.

ANNA:            She’s upstairs. 

OLIVER:        And where’s your bedroom? 

ANNA:            Down the hall there.

OLIVER:        So kind of underneath it?

ANNA:           Yeah. 

OLIVER:        Not sure how I feel about that.

ANNA:           About what? 

OLIVER:        Your Mum … above us.

ANNA:           I don’t understand.

OLIVER:        Sleeping above us, while we’re, you know …

ANNA:           What?

OLIVER:        You know …

            Beat.

ANNA:            Excuse me?! 

OLIVER:        Wait … what?

ANNA:            You think we’re having sex tonight?

OLIVER:        Um. Kind of assumed, yeah. 

ANNA:           Why would you do that?

OLIVER:        I just walked you home. 

ANNA:            So?

OLIVER:        Kind of a long way …

ANNA:           And that entitles you to­–

OLIVER:        It doesn’t entitle me to– 

ANNA:           Because you seem to be implying–

OLIVER:        I’m not implying! 

ANNA:           –that I should give you something in return.                  

Silence.

OLIVER:        Look: I’m sorry, ok? You’re right. I shouldn’t have assumed. I thought … maybe? But I shouldn’t have assumed, that that was, what was, going to …

            ANNA laughs. 

OLIVER:        I hate you. 

ANNA:           No you don’t.

OLIVER:        No, I do. I hate you.

ANNA:            You don’t even remember me.

OLIVER:        Were you this mean at school? 

ANNA:            Is that what you think of me?

OLIVER:        Nah, not really. (Beat) I was joking.

ANNA:           Joking.

OLIVER:        Yeah, like you were with the whole ‘not having sex’ thing. A joke, right?   

ANNA:           What do you think of me?

OLIVER:        Huh?

ANNA:           What do you think of me?

OLIVER:        Like you said: don’t really remember you, so …

ANNA:           So your current opinion of me is completely uninfluenced by experience.

OLIVER:        Uh … I guess so?

ANNA:           Based on nothing but observation.

OLIVER:        Sure.  

ANNA:           What do you think of me?

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist