Theatre Review: COLLAPSIBLE is for anyone who has ever felt like a stranger in their own skin

Close up view of a woman applying makeup into the lens of a camera. Her face is illuminated by a spotlight.
Janet Anderson. Photo: Phil Erbacher

Described as a “coming-of-age comedy-drama”, COLLAPSIBLE, at the Old Fitz Theatre in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo, explores identity and that all too familiar feeling of being completely lost. Written by Margaret Perry and directed By Zoë Hollyoak and Morgan Moroney, this one woman play centres on Essie (Janet Anderson). She’s lost her job, her girlfriend and, as the play progresses, her grasp on reality.

We see Essie desperately attempt to discover who she really is by meeting up with those she believes know her the best – her closest friend, her dad, sister, an old work colleague – and she asks them all the same thing: what word would you use to describe me?

On paper it’s a simple question, but it’s one loaded with meaning and as such one that is difficult for her friends and family to answer. When they do – with beige responses such as ‘smart’ and ‘bubbly’ – Essie records these in her notebook.

A woman sits in a chair on a stage, pointing directly at the camera. On the wall behind her is a projection of her pointed finger.

We also see these people in her life ask the surprisingly complicated question “how are you?“, said with trepidation and fear of the response. When she says that she’s fine and looking for a new job, there is relief and an almost patronising smugness that they can pat themselves on the back for being a good person for asking. As anyone who has experienced a mental illness would know, there is a difference between asking and caring.

There’s interesting commentary on how we often use the internet to tell us who we are too – after all, who hasn’t done a Buzzfeed quiz to find out which Marvel superhero you are or which Sex & the City character you’re most like? But COLLAPSIBLE questions what happens when this is used to truly define you.

Janet Anderson is incredible as Essie, truly embodying each character she adopts, delivering a unique and memorable performance. In particular, her portrayal as the ‘creative’ employer whom she interviews with, is comedic gold. It is no small task to jump between so many different personalities and be able to make the audience believe you are that person. Anderson achieves this solely based on facial expressions, language and physicality, and it is seamless.

A woman holds a camera up to her face. Projected on the wall behind her is the close up view of her eyes.
Janet Anderson. Photo: Phil Erbacher

She’s aided significantly through the use of technology, camera work and projections. Blurring the lines between theatre and performance art, COLLAPSIBLE skilfully utilises various camera angles and visual techniques to enhance the characterisation – and it works beautifully. It is fascinating how a different angle and varying lighting can drastically alter perception. Credit needs to be given to the behind-the-scenes operators who managed the entire technical production without detracting from the performance on stage.

COLLAPSIBLE is both a serious and satirical investigation into what happens when you completely disconnect from yourself. If you aren’t connected to yourself – if you don’t feel ‘real’ – it becomes almost impossible to connect to others. But as we learn, the answer rarely lies externally, such as on the internet or in the opinions of others – it’s usually deep inside yourself. That part of you that feels like a chair – not a strong, hard wood chair, but a light, collapsible one.


COLLAPSIBLE will run until 1 April 2023 at the Old Fitz Theatre. For tickets and more info head to the Red Line Productions website.

Reviewer attended performance on 15 March 2023.