UNHAPPEN’S ‘COUGH’

107 Projects oozes something that always brings me joy, the confidence of youth. Everyone in the foyer was sweaty with it. Their enthusiasm for the future was infectious. Their excited chatter and loud clothing was contrasted by the concrete and steel of the project space. Sydney’s creative youth (and by youth I mean under-30s) was full of beans and I couldn’t help but grin.
In the theatre the smoke was thick, an asthmatic’s nightmare. The performance started with three of the cast puppeteering dolls. I was skeptical. An hour and a half of dolls? I eyed the door. I didn’t think I would be able to last. Luckily the dolls were only half the performance.
Emily Calder’s ‘Cough’, tells of three parents revealing their anxieties about their toddlers various behaviours at a daycare centre. Things take a dark, surreal turn when three and a half year old Frank starts at the centre and tells the children of a monster that lives at the top of a newly grown tree. As a young and relatively new playwright Calder is impressive. I do think that 30 mins could be cut to create a tighter and pacier 60 minute piece rather than the 90 minutes of sometimes super repetitive dialogue. I am not sure if the repetition was meant to be nod to Theatre of the Absurd, but I think the play would be more engaging without it.
Although ‘Cough’ probably had less budget than a toddler’s pocket money, the performance didn’t suffer for it. James Dalton’s clever direction meant the piece benefited from the lack of funds. The $2 remote control helicopter was a spectacular moment. I think it was meant to be a bird, but I was laughing too hard to hear. But by far the best low budget moment was the portrayal of Susan, the Day Care supervisor as a mannequin head on a mop handle. Voiced by Tom Chrisophersen her brief moments on stage and subsequent death was some of the funniest, albeit disturbing, moments of theatre I have ever experienced.
Benjamin Brockman and Tom Hogan’s lighting and sound designs were inspired, almost becoming an entire character of their own.
Unhappen’s production of ‘Cough’ will not be for everyone’s taste. It may perhaps ring a little too true to those parents who refuse to let their kids get dirty or climb trees. It might force them to look inside themselves to realise that their own anxieties and refusal to let their children grow are the greatest dangers their kids face.

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