Shell shocked and white faced, Rachel, played by Maddie Rice (Fleabug, Call the Midwife), hides from the press at the top of Villain. Loosely based on Baby P, the tragic 2009 case of a child who died of neglect, Villain is tragedy narrated by a social worker involved in a similar case. An anachronistic look at a flawed worker in the spotlight, the play is an intimate exploration into intent and perception.

With a naturalistic script by Martin Murphy, Villain uses quiet poeticism to delve into Rachel’s psyche. Flashing between her time right out of university and the paparazzi stormed trial, the story is a tornado of emotions and experiences, flawlessly navigated by Rice’s nuanced performance. Rachel is painted as a victim of public blame, someone whose simple assumptions cost her both reputation and privacy. It is the irony of Rachel’s motives that makes the play so resonant; both her transition into social work and her decision to leave minor bruises and marijuana smells unreported are driven by a desire to give people their best lives.

Staged in traverse, the sparse direction daringly emphasizes Rachel’s restlessness and unsettled conscience. Villain keeps the audience rapt, held in suspense by tiny reveals. It is theatre that whispers truth over the chaos it presents. Each element of the production is executed with sharp mastery, elevating the piece to excellence.

Villain is on at Underbelly Med Quad until August 28.

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