The way we identify ourselves is often tied our work—doctors save lives, cleaners keep things orderly and comedians make us laugh. Few people are quick to identify themselves on the basis of their flaws, although they can be a significant part of how others view us. The doctor may be cold and impatient, the cleaner may be inefficient or overzealous, and the comedian may have poor timing. These jobs are all represented in Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House at the New Theatre, and each character correspondingly explores the dark side of how they view themselves.

Adult sisters Lane and Virginia are not close: Lane, a doctor, judges her younger sister for not achieving more, while Virginia, a depressed housewife, covets the life she never had. Lane, played with sharp precision by Mary-Anne Halpin, is every inch the Stepford wife, although we never learn what makes her so brittle or why her relationship with Virginia is so stifled. Alice Livingstone delivers a hilariously dark, obsessive Virginia, pining over the obscure academic career she could have had, but leaves the audience wondering why a woman with such pointed wit and an eye for detail limits her own horizons so severely. Keila Terencio is a revelation as Matilde, an aspiring comedian who happens to be Lane’s house cleaner. Matilde is the exact opposite of both Lane and Virginia, her relaxed physicality and joie de vivre is a refreshing contrast.

Sets and lighting by David Marshall-Martin are also something special; he absolutely nails the pure white and sharp edges of Lane’s household, but knows how to keep things bright and lively during Matilde’s flashbacks to her parents in Brazil. Costumes by Nicola Block are extremely accurate in Lane’s world (pearls and pencil skirts for days), though slightly less convincing when trying to convey the relaxed attitudes of Matilde’s way of life. Dialect coach Emma Louise highlights some very believable American accents, though some South American characters could use a bit more polish. Props by Ricci Costa go a long way toward showing us some of the small details of the women’s lives, particularly when every individual tchotchke must be dusted and polished, but the yew tree used in the second act needs to be revisited at risk ruining the final climactic scene. Sound by Tegan Nicholls is beautiful; well-chosen and well used.

We all make choices about how to identify ourselves to the world and in our relationships. It’s exciting to watch Lane negotiate a transition from one part of her life to another, even if the momentum could stand to build more quickly. In a story about identity, we want to see people taking risks. All of us must do the same in the real world, so it’s gratifying to see similar challenges reflected back at us on stage. We just want them to dig deeper in order to empower ourselves to do the same.

Joanna O’Hara – Theatre Now

The Clean House

Sarah Ruhl


6 June – 8 July 2017

Previews Tue 6 & Wed 7 Jun, 7:30pm
Thu – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm
Final performance, Sat 8 Jul 2pm


Venue: New Theatre
Theatre Company: New Theatre

Duration: N/A

“Love isn’t clean. It’s dirty. Like a good joke”

Lane values order in every aspect of her life. Her live-in maid Matilde hates cleaning and yearns to be a stand-up comedian. Lane’s depressed sister Virginia finds solace in cleaning and secretly takes over Matilde’s duties.

When Lane’s husband, a surgeon, falls in love with a terminally-ill patient, everything that was clean and tidy for Lane – her house, her emotions, her relationships – is thrown into disarray, and Matilde must come to her rescue.

Blending magic-realism and oddball humour with wisdom and compassion, this romantic comedy about sex, death and dusting proves that the best things in life are infinitely worth waiting for and that shared laughter can heal almost anything. Ultimately it is a celebration of the solidarity, practicality and emotional resilience of women.

Winner: Susan Smith Blackburn Prize 2004 (awarded annually for the best English-language play written by a woman)

“One of the finest and funniest plays you’re likely to see” The New York Times


Ticket Prices
Full $35
Concessions, Groups (6+) $30
Members $22
Previews, Student Rush, Thrifty Thursdays $20

School groups: $22 per student, accompanying teachers free

To make a school group booking, please contact our Acting Theatre Manager, Alice Livingstone: or 02 9519 3403