Theatre – Losing You (Twice)

Venue: King Street Theatre, Newtown February 7-11, 2017
Written By: and Performer: Kate O’Keeffe
Directed By: and Dramaturg: Paul Gilchrist

At the close of Kate O’Keeffe’s Losing You (Twice) the audience seemed almost unable to encompass the terrible irony of the O’Keeffe family’s story. Horror at the relentless way in which events are resolved and pity for the suffering of the individuals involved give this story about an ordinary family from Geelong a classically tragic dimension.

Initially O’Keeffe, effectively interacting with back projection, introduces us to her family, siblings, parents and legendary Nan through a funny and affectionate home video made at her younger brother’s fourth birthday. Hindsight invests the magic candles that can’t be blown out decorating Daniel’s birthday cake with a bitter sub-text.

Abandoning her balletic ambitions young Kate adopts the persona of a documentary maker and her earnest attempts at archiving the family house and its inhabitants deepen our knowledge of, and affection for, the O’Keeffes. Given several tantalising glimpses of the growing Daniel we finally encounter him as a dignified and candid young man as he responds warmly to an appreciative toast made by his father at his 21st.

All seems well until Daniel is diagnosed with depression. The family is sympathetic but finds the diagnosis bewildering. Kate invites Daniel to lunch but blames herself for not really broaching the issue in depth with her brother. Daniel’s mother comes close to the nub of the problem when she almost makes the link between Daniel’s new interest in “spirituality” and his growing identification with homeless people.

When the 24-year-old Daniel goes missing, the O’Keeffe’s world fragments entirely. There is no support available to them. It seems that strangers rather than friends are able to reach out to them and they find that some individuals are prepared to exploit the family’s suffering for personal gain. An apparent sighting in Queensland sends them all in search of Daniel only to be disappointed and his parents begin an exhaustive and exhausting journey around Australia in quest of their son. Kate relocates to Sydney, and her sister Loren campaigns to increase awareness of, and support for, the families of missing people.

In the end, the early pleas made on television and shown on the back projection, for Daniel to come home are fulfilled in a startling and horrible way. Is it better that the O’Keeffes know the fate of Daniel or is what they learn a further and grotesque affliction?

Kate O’Keeffe, for whom I have the greatest admiration as both performer and as a courageous woman, tells her family’s story with hope. She intends that their tribulation will encourage others to speak openly about mental health and that their pain will raise awareness about the grief of ambiguous loss. The way she tells it through interaction with video, photographs and television broadcasts compels her audience to feel how much the past is always the present for O’Keeffe and her family.

 The sensitive direction of Paul Gilchrist permits Losing You (Twice) to be felt directly as Kate O’Keeffe’s unfiltered experience and the smooth operation of the creative team supports this impression of immediacy.

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