Love ChildJoanna Murray-Smith is one of Australia's best known and most successful playwrights. Her work has not only been produced across Australia, but also in the UK, Europe, the US and Asia. One of her earlier plays Love Child (1993) has just had a successful season at the Finborough Theatre in London. 

Last week Hit Productions launched a five week tour of Love Child with an opening night performance at Melbourne's Athenaeum Theatre. In coming months Australian audiences in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales will have an opportunity to see this new production directed by Bruce Myles and performed by Amanda Muggleton and Melinda Dransfield.

Dreams and memory, along with the social role of women are recurring themes in Murray-Smith's work and Love Child (1993) is no exception, dealing as it does with a child's dreams and hopes of re-connection with her birth mother. Anna (Amanda Muggleton) fell pregnant as a teenager and, under pressure from her parents, gave her daughter up for adoption. Now in her forties, divorced and with a successful career as a film editor, she lives in splendid isolation in an immaculate, designer apartment. Into this neat, contained world bursts, Billie (Melinda Dransfield), claiming to be her daughter. She is everything her mother isn't – bright, energetic and relishing her fame as a soapie star, a supermodel with nymphomaniac tendencies. Whilst Anna has tried to block out all memory of her child, Billie has constantly dreamed of her mother and what it will be like to finally meet her. What follows is an emotional struggle to bridge the gulf of unknown years lived in very different ways by two very different women. Billie desperately wants to make a connection; Anna is desperate to protect herself, afraid of breaking down the walls she has built around her emotions.

This is a beautifully crafted play that works both on a personal and a political level, whilst never falling into preachiness. This is not just the story of two women but of two generations of women, one that constrained by society's expectations of a woman's role became politically active in the 1960s, the other who believes she is free to be whatever she wants and cannot understand how a mother could give up her child.

Amanda Muggleton gives Anna a cultured, polite, superficial coolness which covers a deeply emotional core to which she gives us fleeting glimpses. Melinda Dransfield's Billie is completely 'out there', using every possible ploy to break down Anna's defences and elicit the warm, loving and congratulatory response she has long dreamed of receiving from her mother. It is only in the last ten minutes that an unexpected twist causes Anna to release all her pent up emotions in what is a genuinely moving scene. Amanda Muggleton is a seasoned actor who has wowed audiences in productions such as Shirley Valentine and Steaming. Melinda Dransfield, on the other hand, is a recent graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) where she had the opportunity to work with such directors as Kate Cherry. Dransfield is a welcome new face and demonstrates an impressive emotional range in her portrayal of Billie.

Judith Cobb's set design is a mirror of Anna's cool, stylish exterior and Anna's Miyaki inspired pant suit is perfectly compliments the olive green and white décor in her home. In contrast Billie is a flash of lightness and brightness, all in blues and reds.

As a two hander Love Child is a demanding play and one which I can't help but feel would benefit from being performed in a more intimate venue than the Athenaeum Theatre. This said, however, it is important that people living in rural and regional areas have the opportunity of seeing a professional production of the work of such an important and influential playwright.

Love Child will tour for five weeks with performances in Woy Woy, Sale, Warragul, South Morang, Adelaide, Redcliffe, Ipswich, Brisbane and Parramatta.

Christine Harris and HIT Productions Present
by Joanna Murray-Smith

Venue: Athenaeum Theatre | 188 Collins Street, Melbourne
Date: March 12 at 6.30pm and March 13 at 8pm

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