Kate Goodfellow’s autobiographical account of displacement and shattered mental health captures the immediacy of recent trauma. 39 Degrees jumps between two dates in 2019: July 25 and December 31. What connects them is the weather, with the temperature hitting 39 degrees on both days in different countries.
Following an intensive three-month research and development period, the play now includes a searing look at the Australian bushfires of 2019-20, in which Goodfellow’s family lost their home.
In Alistair Wilkinson’s production, her anger and raw despair are laid bare as she ruminates that more could have been done to prevent the devastation. While Goodfellow’s lived experience makes the story compelling, her passionate monologue runs the risk of becoming an exhausting political rant.
She awkwardly introduces painful topics and then skirts around them: her best friend has suffered a heart attack, she’s lost her job, she’s been cheated on. She covers a lot of ground, and at times, in an hour-long production, these experiences feel as if they need more room to breathe.
Ruth Newbery-Payton plays a strong supporting role as the outward expression of Goodfellow’s anxious mind. Their quickfire verbal exchanges, sometimes funny and incisive, saying a great deal about millennial angst, also capture Goodfellow’s distress as her thoughts compete and collide.
Chris Gibbs’ set encapsulates the claustrophobia that runs throughout the play. A large window dominates the stage, blinds always closed. A piping hot radiator adds to the fug, while a mountain of bags for life and a sad, single mattress signal Goodfellow’s sense of dislocation.
A clever lighting design by Joseph Ed Thomas ramps up the heat – an orange glow burns the faces of Goodfellow and Newbury-Payton, while a red wash across the window conveys Australia’s blazing skies. It’s in many ways a brave piece but, at times, it feels as if there are two plays competing for the spotlight.