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Credit: Gary Marsh

4 stars

Review by Laura Money

Entering the large and exposed set in the Heath Ledger Theatre at the State Theatre Centre WA one is immediately intrigued by the sleek looking family home of the Goodmans. The curtains are open, the kitchen set shines like an island in the blackness of the large stage, almost swallowed by it. This is a perfect metaphor for what we are about to see – a no-holds barred, exposure of a perfect loving family – warts and all. Mental health and dysfunction are stripped back and shown to the whole world in Next To Normal. As the set spins around and around we get a glimpse into the world of Diana Goodman (Rachael Beck) whose whole existence seems to spin around and there are no grounding forces keeping her from understanding reality.
Next To Normal tells the story of the Goodman family who are all dealing with the fall-out of Diana’s mental breakdown and mental health issues. It tells of her initial heart-wrenching episode, her humorous take on the pshychology/psychiatry industry – “I don’t feel anything anymore.” “Patient stable” Not only does the play address these issues, it does it through song and dance. The Tony Award winning combination of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey is not afraid to tackle controversial topics, such as electro shock therapy, teenage drug use, and even marriage disintegration and tension yet it is all done with a rocking soundtrack bursting with humour and pathos.
The cast are absolutely phenomenal here: Shannen Alice is the perfect combination of teen angst and vulnerability as the “Invisible Girl” the daughter Natalie, James Bell’s performance as the phantom son is so present and memorable, as he straddles the line between rock star and musical character. Michael Cormick is hilarious as the sexy rock-star pshchiatrist. He bursts out into these larger than life epic motifs and then pulls back to the serious guy flawlessly. Joel Horwood is a real talent as the free-thinking love interest for Natalie. His kindness shines through in his voice – which is a hard task to manage without tapering off. Yet it is Brendan Hansen as the husband and father who gets the most sympathy from me. He is consistently confused and torn between his love and the vows he made and his own mental health. Hansen gives the most heart-felt and tragic performance of the whole show and one sees the pain in his eyes sparkling through the tears. Of course, Beck is fantastic as the confused and tortured figure of Diana and she really throws everything into her amazing performance.
Clever, humorous and absolutely tragic with a rocking and catchy soundtrack, Next To Normal will certainly always stay in your mind.

Black Swan Theatre Company’s Next To Normal is on at the State Theatre Centre WA until Sunday 22nd November 2015.

Tickets available: http://www.bsstc.com.au/season-2015/next-to-normal