Get ready for an emotional ride with Belvoir St Theatre’s new play Tiny Beautiful Things.
It’s an incredible play exploring the hardships of life through agony aunt letters to Sugar (performed with heart and soul by Mandy McElhinney). Tiny Beautiful Things comes with a content warning that the letters were sent by real people seeking advice on all matters of life including complex conversations around life, death and love. The responses from Sugar are brutally honest, at times hard hitting as she draws on her life experiences, revealing her own personal traumas as she attempts to help the letter writers.
Tiny Beautiful Things is based on the book by Cheryl Strayed and adapted by Academy Award-nominee Nia Vardalos (best known for starring in and writing in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Strayed, famous for her novel-turned-film Wild (starring Reese Witherspoon), then went on to write Tiny Beautiful Things, compiled from the internet advice column she started writing anonymously in 2010.
Lee Lewis, Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre Company and one of Australia’s leading Directors, first read the play as a favour to a friend, then fell in love with the writing and realised she had to direct it and bring it to the stage.
It’s a bold move to take on a play without any classical narrative format. The entire 90-minutue play is a series of monologues of letters and responses. However, it works. The combination of the evocative script, heartfelt acting and clever direction, make it a gripping play.
The stage (Simone Romaniuk’s set) is Sugar’s messy family home, which she tidies throughout the play. Constantly cleaning and moving as she shares her life advice with the letter writers, it becomes a metaphor for cleaning her mental home, and those of her desperate writers.
Tiny Beautiful Things will take viewers on an emotional journey with confronting subject matter covering love, miscarriage, rape, abuse, transgender and death.
Each of the actors shine as they tackle the intense script and some uncomfortable topics with depth and vulnerability. Star performer is McElhinney but credit also goes to Stephen Geronimo especially in his ‘Living Dead Dad’ piece which is harrowing and soul-stirring. Nic Prior also transforms from character to character, changing vocals to portray the different letter writers.
Vardalos’ adaptation was first shown at Queensland Theatre where it was criticised for keeping the American dialect. Lewis explains the play is a reminder that all around the world people are struggling with similar problems and they wanted to say authentic to the actual letter writers who are American.
It’s a play that will encourage those deeper conversations but most of all it’s a lesson in humanity and that even in moments of darkness there is hope.
Lee says: “For all the talk about the complex stories in this play. It exists because it’s hopeful. A writer that can write with hope is like a painter who can paint with joy. This play is by a writer who believes there is a hopeful future, and we need those voices.”
Bring tissues; this is a play that will most certainly pull on the heartstrings.
Five stars. Tiny Beautiful Things will run at the Belvoir St Theatre, until 2 March.
Tickets start from $39 (plus booking fee). For purchase visit 》 belvoir.com.au/productions/tiny-beautiful-things/