Belvoir Street Theatre has a warning in their publicity for “Radiance” that it may raise issues for people who have experienced sexual assault. “OK, a bit grim”, I thought, but I was still really keen to see the play, as I’d heard so many good things about it over so many years. I also knew there was a movie based on the play, which I’d read was Rachael Perkin’s feature film. But I’d never seen it, so I didn’t know too much about the play. But I really liked the sound of the play, and I was really keen to see the cast: the amazing Leah Purcell, and two actors I’d come to know through the wonderful film, The Sapphires: Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the play concerns three women (half sisters) who come together for their mother’s funeral. One of the daughters had been living and caring for their mother through dementia, having previously worked as a nurse. There’s a couple of really upsetting descriptions of the mother’s experience with dementia, by the way. Another had been living a wonderfully casual life, with no real career, and was pretty fond of spending time with a lot of men. You soon discover, she’s probably the most similar to her mother. The oldest was a world-famous opera singer who had been living overseas for a number of years, and although she had “sent money home” to her family, hadn’t had all that much contact with her sisters.

Radiance at Belvoir Street
Leah Purcell in Radiance at Belvoir Street

At the heart of the play is how they confront some of their family secrets and myths with tears and laughter. There were moments in the play when we laughed out loud, side-splitting humour. There’s a scene with a vacuum cleaner which is both hilarious and wonderfully dark. There’s also a moment in the play which had me in tears, almost on the verge of sobbing. There were a couple of occasions when I almost had to get up and leave. How embarrassing would that be? And what a terrible diversion it would have been to the experience of others enjoying the play. That said, a bloke sitting in front of us looked around as if to say “are you okay?”. I pulled it together, though I left the theatre with red eyes.

It’s a wonderful play. I’d highly recommend it, and this production was excellent.

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