39 Degrees is sixty minutes of burning rage. It starts as a flicker and ends in an inferno of confusion, exhaustion and heartbreak. We are reassured by a content warning voice over at the beginning of the piece, that author and performer Kate Goodfellow is okay now. That the tragedy she and her family endured is now just an ember in a dying fire, but the raw emotion that seeps throughout the piece could have you wondering otherwise. However, as our protagonist comments “Some people don’t tell you this, but sometimes the healing hurts worse than the wound.” Kate is not one of those people.
The play has been re-written for The Vault Festival. It had been previously heading down a slightly different route, though the team made the decision to create a new piece when Kate’s family home in Australia burnt down during the recent bushfires. Set in a sparsely decorated flat in London, we find the protagonist broke and struggling to cope. She is visited by a friend, their relationship familiar and loving, though they wear similar clothes and their hair is the same we quickly learn that this new character is in fact an iteration of Kate, whether from the past or the future this is not entirely clear. The fragmented way in which the present day story pieces together with relived memories has the audience searching for information, especially towards the beginning as the relationship between the women and the scene is set which did at points detract somewhat from the audience’s connection to the narrative.
Kate Goodfellow and Ruth Newbery-Payton are both captivating and technically skilled. Each cast member expertly handles the movement choreographed to fluidly transition between each section, adding a beautiful element of expression where words aren’t quite enough. Goodfellow’s script is lyrical and poetic, emotively describing the way in which the fires looked burning on the horizon. Alistair Wilkinson’s direction is faultless, each beat hitting the perfect pitch and combined with the impressive production design; this makes for a visually stunning piece.
39 Degrees is a heart wrenching and stunningly executed piece of theatre, seething rage tempered by an honest vulnerability. The only conclusion to draw is that we must do better to care for our planet, for our families and friends and those we will never meet. The bushfires did not happen to Australia, they happened to all of us.