The Performance by Claire Thomas

‘Excuse me.’

Three different women are watching the performance of a Samuel Beckett play in Melbourne. It is 40 degrees C outside, and the country around Melbourne is burning. But inside the theatre, the air conditioning makes it cool, and easy to escape from the outside world. Or does it?

The performance unfolds, as do the women’s stories. There’s little dialogue: we are readers of each woman’s internal monologue.

Margot, a professor, has just had a dreaded conversation about retirement, with the dean. Her trip to the theatre has been difficult and she is preoccupied. Her husband is ailing. The play has started.

Summer, a student, is working as a theatre usher. Because of her role, she misses the beginning of the play – again. But Summer is preoccupied, anyway, because her girlfriend April was travelling into the fire zone to help her parents.

Ivy, younger than Margot, is distracted by a man snoring in the seat next to her. She is a philanthropist who has received free tickets to the play because the theatre company wants her money. Ivy is thinking about the past.

Three women of different ages and backgrounds separately watching ‘Happy Days’, a two-act play with an ambiguous ending. And the women? What will happen next for each of them now the play is over?

I admire the structure of this novel, the way in which Ms Thomas uses the performance of ‘Happy Days’ to bring these separate stories together without constructing an artificial connection between the women. Each woman’s monologue invites the reader to think about their own life: past and present, as well as to envisage the future. Watching a play is a very solitary activity, even in a crowd. Because the audience is static, seated and focussed (in varying degrees) the play on the stage becomes a backdrop for reflection, for each of the three women whose stories we become part of. And for readers as well.

Highly recommended.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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