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Little Mercy – Sisters Grimm and Sydney Theatre Co

A high-camp ode to evil child movies from Melbourne's indie theatre heroes.
By Rima Sabina Aouf
March 15, 2013
By Rima Sabina Aouf
March 15, 2013

Jumping from suburban garage to main stage in the space of a few months is no common feat, but Ash Flanders and Declan Green, the alarmingly talented duo behind Sisters Grimm, are not common. The Melbourne indie theatre heroes write fast and on the fly, put on their melodramatic genre mash-ups in whatever space they can lock down and find the finished product is so good that critics and audiences fall at their feet in adulation. This critic/audience member is no exception.

Little Mercy is so effortlessly funny and so riveting that you have no perception of 90 minutes having passed. The high-camp ode to 'evil child' movies, originally staged in a Collingwood car park in 2010, takes you into the Summers home, where ambitious theatre director Roger (Luke Mullins) and his lovely wife, Virginia (Flanders), long for a child. Upon finding an acceptance letter from an orphanage to which they don't remember applying, they gratefully receive Mercy (Jill McKay). By the time the child begins to show her not-so-sweet side, Roger is tied up directing blockbuster musical Bon Voyage Susan and Virginia finds her only options for help are the nanny (Mullins again), a gypsy seer, her mysterious friend Gladys (phone voice by charismatic sound designer Steve Toulmin) or her own self.

Evil child horror movies have something of a reputation for ruining the lives of their young stars. But Sisters Grimm have come up with a clever way to avoid saddling their actor with the self-belief that she's demonic and wrong. You know that Jill McKay can handle it. She's a delight in the role of little Alice in Wonderland-skirted Mercy.

Mullins is po-facedly hilarious throughout, but this is really Flanders' show. He is a superlative drag performer. Where other Little Mercy performers are men in dresses, and instantly comical in the panto way men in dresses are, Ash has to do comical things to earn laughter, because as a woman — a glamorous, statuesque woman — he's believable. There's a lot of subtleness in what he brings to a show you could otherwise readily call 'over-the-top'.

Flanders spoke to us about the process of adapting their "aesthetic of failure" for the Sydney Theatre Company stage, and it's safe to say the Sisters have succeeded. There are a few winks and nods to low production values, but it's not something they dwell on, and the overall look is creatively handmade rather than broke. Like a Michel Gondry movie. And truly, there's a lot to enjoy in Little Mercy for film fans. Greene, with designers David Fleischer and Verity Hampson, has spun a host of effects that recall cinematic conventions while being idiosyncratically theatrey. A spectacular running-while-losing-one's-mind sequence is a prime example.

Unfortunately, Little Mercy is basically sold out, so perhaps you should run on ahead and book for Sisters Grimm's second Sydney appearance, of Summertime in the Garden of Eden for Griffin Theatre. Or you can follow the lead of Little Mercy's precocious star and start whacking those smug ticketholders.

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