by Adrian Miller.

Patrick Livesey was one of the stars of last year’s Adelaide Fringe highlights with DIRT. This year he returns with a solo show about his mother, who suffered a mental illness and ultimately took her own life. We speak with Patrick to discuss the play and how he went about writing it:

We really enjoyed all of the twists and turns in the plot of last year’s brilliant DIRT! Can we expect similar plot twists in Naomi?

“You can definitely expect to be on the edge of your seat but maybe not quite as twist-y and turn-y!” he begins. “The interesting thing with Naomi is that the audience already knows how the story ends, so it really is about the journey – to quote every inspirational Instagram post ever!”

Has DIRT continued to enjoy success since the Adelaide Fringe?

“It has! We were able to piggyback off the success of Adelaide and had locked in a huge Victorian premiere which was sadly postponed due to Melbourne’s 111th lockdown. That production will go up in May and we’ve just come off an incredible season in Perth where we picked up the gong for Best Theatre & Performance at Fringe World. We are loving being able to share DIRT with so many people and we’ve raised over $2,500 for LGBTQIA+ folks in Russia (and counting!).”

This year you are performing on your own. Is this the first time you’ve done a solo show? Is the personal nature of the story the reason why you chose to write it as a one person show?

“I actually made my stage debut in a solo show that I wrote called The Boy, George which came to Holden Street Theatres in 2019,” Patrick says. “So, in a way, it feels like coming home! I knew right from the outset that I wanted this particular work to be solo. It’s so, so personal and I’m digging into a lot of really sensitive stuff and that requires enormous trust from my family and those who were close to mum so it just made sense that I should be the one shouldering that responsibility. I also love to be the one that gets to breathe life into each of the characters, each one feels like a little love letter to the person who inspired them.”

DIRT required you to research what was happening in Russia, and this time you interviewed a lot of people before writing the script. Do you always like to do a lot of groundwork before commencing a script?

“Always, always, always! Research for me is how I get inside the world of a play. It’s also how I convince myself that I am actually capable of telling that story. Once you’ve spent time with an idea and you feel like you understand the nuances and details you feel a lot more confident sharing that story with an audience. The best material comes when something you uncover inspires an idea or ignites something you had sitting in the back of your mind. It’s also really fun!”

How long did it take you to write Naomi?

“I started interviewing people in April 2020,” Patrick says, “and we’re still putting the finishing touches on it as we speak – so, quite a while! For me that feels appropriate. I was wading through 50 years of a person’s life, plus decades and decades of memories and (sometimes opposing) recollections. To be able to sit with the material for so long has been a real gift, and has allowed the story to find its own focus in a really beautiful way.”

Bronwen Coleman (director of DIRT) is on board for this one also?

“Absolutely! And I couldn’t have done it without her, he says. “I’d written four or five drafts by the time I sent it to ‘B’ for her thoughts, and it was actually her idea to use the interview transcripts as the basis for the work. We’ve been working together on the piece since July last year and as well as being ridiculously talented and good at her job. She is also my biggest supporter and has been my champion in bringing this work to fruition. There have been so many moments of doubt and worry and fear of how the story will be received. Having Bronwen there next to me telling me to go for it has been amazing and possibly essential.”

Despite your play being about the shock and grief of losing a loved one, you manage to inject some humour into the script. Was this difficult?

“Strangely, no. The hardest part was not getting to use even half of the stuff I could have. Almost everyone I interviewed and have included in the play is really funny and an amazing storyteller, so bringing that humour into the script was easy. As almost everyone will tell you, mum was a really funny person and I could have written an entire show just about the stupid things she would do. Maybe that will be the sequel…”

How well will we come to know Naomi from seeing the play?

“I hope really well,” Patrick says. “And I hope more than just the surface level stuff. In telling this story I was adamant that it wouldn’t try and gloss over the difficult aspects of mum’s life and her illness. It’s so important that as we tackle stigma around mental illness and suicide that we confront them head-on. Mum was hilarious, magnetic, generous and loving. She could also be withdrawn, complicated, messy… she was human! Naomi is a story about all of it and a testament to everything that she was and will always be.”

Naomi will cover some topics that might disturb some people. What age do you recommend that your play is suitable for?

“I think that’s up to individual families. It’s hard for me to say what is and isn’t age appropriate,” he says. “The characters in the show describe instances of self-harm, alcoholism and physical aggression as well as the effects of a drug overdose. I think if you have a child who’s interested in this story and they’re old enough to understand the issues and you’re able to talk to them about it then I think that would be wonderful. But I’ll leave that up to the parents!”

Is there anything you’d like to add?

“Come see Naomi! You won’t regret it.”

Patrick Livesey performs Naomi at The Studio at Holden Street Theatres, at various times, on Tue 1 Mar until Sun 20 Mar.

Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 and adelaidefringe.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.


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