The Tin Woman @ Arts Theatre Cronulla

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (reviewed Saturday 11 May)

“I’m not crying, you’re crying,” is the audience verdict of The Tin Woman currently performing at Arts Theatre Cronulla. This gorgeous story and excellent production is a must-see for theatre lovers.

Written by Sean Grennan and directed by Scott Brawley, The Tin Woman tells the story of a heart transplant patient named Joy. But she is anything but her namesake. After the operation, there is an emptiness inside. Depression and survivor’s guilt erodes her spirit and plagues her thoughts.

The play also covers the emotional upheaval of the donor’s family after tragically losing their beloved son Jack, whose heart has been anonymously given to Joy. Any contact between patients and donors is against protocol. Somehow, they manage to connect. What ensues is both confronting and profoundly human.

Grennan cites his inspiration for The Tin Woman as a newspaper clipping given to him by his sister and an interview with Maurice Sendak (author of Where the Wild Things Are).

Thematically, it sits in the genre of an indie flick, on par with the highly acclaimed A Case for the Existence of God recently seen at the Seymour Centre. Both plays are set in America and speak to themes of tragedy, grief, loss, estrangement from family members and the power of healing and closure.

Scott Brawley’s direction (as well as his oversight of the set design) is appropriately understated. This is a play that easily could have fallen into being maudlin and melodramatic, and while there is one character with that tendency, the overall tone is gentle, authentic storytelling that offers a theatrical hug. There is conflict at appropriate moments driven by pain and emotional denial. The playgroup scene in particular is a moment of pure vulnerability. We care deeply about these characters, and feel connected to them.

The role of Joy is played by Koren Chambers, who shares some personal insights in her bio which would have no doubt informed her brave performance. Her best friend Darla is played by Angela Gibson (who also plays her nurse in a separate role). She brings boisterous energy and will not allow Joy to wallow in self-pity.

Michael Barlow plays Jack, the deceased donor who follows the characters around the stage as a silent spectre, his presence often ‘felt’ but never seen by the characters. His mute performance creates an interesting dynamic rarely seen in contemporary theatre. Adding to the dramatic tension is a re-enactment of the last time his father saw him alive, when they exchanged heated words and said terrible things.

Jack’s father, Hank Borden, is played by none other than Michael Gooley, current President of the Arts Theatre Cronulla. Gooley knows how to be the suffering silent type, the cantankerous husband who mutters the word ‘menopause’ as a pejorative towards his wife. His acerbic performance is palpable as he navigates the arc of his remorse and bitterness.

Equally powerful is Christiane Brawley as Alice, Hank’s wife and matriarch of the Borden household. Alice really is the heart of the family and steers them through thick and thin, exuding strength, resilience and stoicism. Brawley’s performance is generous, warm and maternally instinctive.

Kirsty McGowan plays Sammy, Jack’s OTT new-age sister who believes in ‘the circle of life’ while her grieving father does not. Her warmth, exuberance and willingness to give love while her father remains cold and aloof is a relatable dynamic in many families. Sammy is the unapologetic weepy sibling, and McGowan delivers a very sweet performance that gives the play a lighter note.

The set design is purposefully kept quiet and uncluttered to allow the actors to shine. We easily follow the action from left, right and centre stage, while an overlay of music by The Avett Brothers hits a nerve with its poetic expression.

The Tin Woman is playing at Arts Theatre Cronulla til 15 June 2024. For tickets and showtimes, go to

Images: Jeff Gall, Mark Phillips and Peter Gale from the Port Hacking Camera Club

2 thoughts on “The Tin Woman @ Arts Theatre Cronulla

  1. Tin Woman was excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was the best play we’d seen in a long time. All of the actors were extremely professional. Well done everyone!

    1. Thank you Alayne for your comment. We agree – an outstanding production!

      What a wonderful theatre group in the heart of Cronulla!

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