To make a piece of gig theatre work, you need to find a musical genre or vibe that can imbue the show with energy, and you need to find a story and a storyteller that can harness that effectively to communicate that music’s emotions. The Domestic has one, it does not have the other. What it has in amazingly fun music, it lacks in narrative drive, and in individual charisma.
Half of the battle is there, but the other half just isn’t
The Domestic is a play about a teenage mother who gets suckered in by a chakra healer, inherits her mum’s extraordinary wealth, becomes an addict, and loses her son, Jake, tragically after he runs away from home. The narrative is objectively a bummer, but the show attempts to present our main character, Em, as a sort of fun, cool mess, whose life may be disordered, but who’s still a good time. This presentation falls apart when you realise that Em never really tries to reorganise her life – there is no great realisation of her dependencies and problems that we see. She is unhappy but is never self-reflective about the conditions of that unhappiness, which makes empathising with her difficult. Her attitude towards her son’s sexuality is also odd – on the one hand defending him with screams against a homophobe giving her an interview, but on the other, visualising a sex scene between her son and another man that was bordering on offensive levels of patronising. Em may not be portrayed as a good person, but that imagery falls on the company, not the character.
This is not to say that the performances are bad, what’s honestly more unfortunate is that the cast is so charming. Our lead actress, Maddie Ince, is both engaging and entertaining for the most part, and the band behind her are absolutely joyful to watch. The humour they bring is necessary to keep the script moving, and their energy is palpable. As musicians they’re working overtime, giving us the concert feel I was praying the show would have. The music is unrefined, but it feels gleeful and young in the way that good Garage-rock does, and you can easily find your foot tapping along with it.
But that’s what makes this show a disappointment. Half of the battle is there, but the other half just isn’t. The energy of a good gig is definitively there, the company just needs to find a fuller narrative to hitch it to. There are other issues, namely the odd use of puppetry, which felt a bit tacked on, but the show’s soul is somewhat cracked. It’s not beyond repair, but it’s definitely in need of a lot of work.