Review: Beautiful Highness

Chapel Off Chapel
17 to 28 May

Shelley (Petra Glieson) is a quick-witted fighter who constantly battles with voices in her head. She finds short periods of solace in weekly visits with her kids, calls to her siblings and music.

Photographer: Angel Leggas

The play starts with an immediately unsettling insight into what someone suffering schizophrenia must live with. Sound designer James Roche cleverly projects snippets of dialogue all over the theatre, in different locations and at differing volumes to portray an intense, confronting barrage of voices. 

I found myself immediately connecting with Shelly and her troubles. The appearance of Tina (Jessica Faulkner) added an intense rawness to an already powerfully uncomfortable setting.

Shelly’s mother (Michele Stayner) and sister Sam (Tanya Schneider) bear the brunt of the fallout of Shelly’s sickness, constantly struggling to keep their family together in what often came across as an exercise in futility.

Beautiful Highness is a poignant and ultimately uplifting portrayal of one family’s determination to overcome the challenges of mental illness. 

Jasper McDonald Parsons playing Shelly’s youngest son Tommy brings an incredible maturity to the stage despite his young age.

* Alistair Herbert pictured as Tommy

One of the pleasures of a smaller production is the many roles the performers are often required to portray throughout the show. For example, Jessica Faulkner reemerges as a vivacious Angie, Shelly’s fellow in-patient, in stark contrast to her earlier appearance on stage. Anthony Scundi displayed a similarly impressive array of skills convincingly playing various roles including Shelly’s brother Ben and a policeman among others, while Angela Kennedy is a very convincing and at times incredibly funny “voice hearer”.

Director Sara Grenfell made great use of the intimate setting of Chapel Off Chapel’s Loft theater to draw the audience in to Shelly’s struggles.

Playwright Chelsea Plumley has successfully brought a very confronting and personal story to life in a way that manages to entertain her audience while respecting the sickness and people on which it is based.

Beautiful Highness is an incredibly powerful portrayal of one family’s real struggle. Please take heed of the trigger warnings.

* The role of Tommy is played by Jasper McDonald Parsons and Alistair Herbert on alternate performances. Jasper McDonald Parsons performed when I saw the show, however the supplied photos depict Alistair Herbert.

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Andrew G is a theatre promoter (@andrewgshowtime), a theatre producer (Green Day's American Idiot, The Wizard of Oz, Dogfight) and Editor of (formerly Melbourne Theatre Info).
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