A response to

A purely emotional response to the play Telethon Kid written by Alisair Baldwin

by Jess Knight

a hotel bedroom scene from telephone kid. Two people, with their chests exposed wearing only tight underwear, are in the photo. One stands at a drinks table, glasses and small bottles of liquor atop it. They have their back to the other person, who lies in a bed, holding a phone in their hand, looking up at their back with a slight smile.

I wake up at 7am with my heart beating fast and hard like I am being chased by something large and fast with teeth. I am not I am in my bed and I am meant to go see Telethon Kid written by the very funny Alistair Baldwin and directed by Hannah Fallowfield, at The Malthouse at 7pm that evening. I try not to panic as I lay there and try to will my heart beats back into a more relaxed and consistent rhythm. The thought of another trip to emergency fills me with very real fear and a wave of vivid and horror filled emergency room experiences flood my brain. I feel myself back in ICU machines and tubes everywhere as I am flooded with drug induced hallucinations, all horrible thatv feel very real. I wake my partner sleeping next to me. He groggily puts his hand on my heart. We wait. My heart does not slow down. When the paramedics arrive they do so calmly and with little fanfare. There are three of them and they are all attractive and the picture of health and medical professionalism. I, of course am still in bed with morning breath and a covered in a clammy sweat. They check my vital signs and put little stickers on various parts of my clammy skin in order to do an ECG. I am not having a heart attack. My heart starts to return to normal. My heart was beating unusually fast but it was not life or death. I could go to the emergency room if I so chose. I decided not to. I wasn’t dying today, that was good enough for me. I spent the day in bed watching old british comedies like I did when I was chronically sick kid. A long established coping mechanism.

I am not a critic. When I was asked to write a response to Alistair’s play that didn’t have to be straight up criticism, I was elated. I could respond poetically and emotionally. This is much more in my wheelhouse. My own dream is to create my own stuff that critics respond to critically. I have a memoir coming out in June 2024. It was meant to come out June this year but I spent the first couple of months of the year in intensive care. I attended the play with some ECG stickers still stuck to my skin unseen under my clothes. I had an excellent seat second row centre. I was going to be able to see the actor’s facial expressions nice and clear. I sat in my seat as the lights went out and the crowd’s chatter stopped. We were all ready to sit in the dark together and feel something.

The feelings that the play inspired included hilarity, shock and delighted horror. There were moments of pure sexual energy between a doctor and his former patient. I have never seen a sex scene in a play before ( I know how lame I sound) especially not one so charged with unapologetic homoerotic energy which I much appreciated. When you grow up in close proximity to many medical professionals you are going to run into a few hotties even if you don’t clock it as a sick and scared 11 year old, you always have the joy of hindsight to give you a belated oh dayum, that person was a dream boat. For me that was the anaesthesiologist I had when I was going to have reconstructive spinal surgery. He had an earing ancd I thought that made him a sexy pirate. There was also a doctor who had the same name as a motorbike: Doctor Harely who was so calm and soft spoken that he put my tin y 8 year old heart at ease in some very stressful appointments. Its only now when I look back with a fast dwin dling libido that I think of this mans face and hands and think that he was probably a lovely and tender lover. Now that I have spent my adult life thus far near death and dying multiple times I can say the percentage of hot and beautiful doctors seems to have tripled. My cuteness has severly depleted since my childrens hospital days.

Sam played by the brilliant William Rees lights up the stage from the second Rees steps onto it. Sam is the type of person I wish I could have met and befriended during any number of hours and hours spent waiting around at the Royal Children’s hospital in Melbourne. They are funny and confident and decisive. The play shuns self pity and heavy handed sentiment, two things that you are very aware of if you grew up garnering the pity of many and almost all the adults around you. Everybody loves a sick child as Sam comments. Sam got to see The Veronicas. At my ‘Special Childrens Christmas party’ I attended, I saw The Wiggles which was not all that exciting to me as a 13 year old. The sack of donated gifts was appealing though again all things more suited to younger children. I remember giving the gifts to my mum so she could redistribute them to my younger siblings from ‘Santa.’

Table scene from telethon kid. three people sit around a small table with a white tablecloth. On the left, a male presenting person with dark hair sets hunched over, looking at the table. In the middle, a female presenting dark skinned person stands holding an orange in her hand, wearing a vibrant blue dress and smiling at the third person, who is on the other side of her. This third person has short brown hair, and wears a colourful shirt and cream-coloured pants. They are looking animatedly at the female presenting person in the blue dress, and holding a teacup in their hand. Their other hand rests on the table: it is small and their fingers are clenched.

This is the thing about Telethon Kid, Alistair knows what he is talking about and he knows what he is doing with every sentence uttered on stage and every single scene. He knows how to make you laugh and then cry and then laugh again. The emotional ride is beautiful and you feel like you are in good hands throughout. Talented hands include Mark Pritchard’s dramaturgical talents, Direction by Hannah Fallowfield, the perfect comedic timing of Effie Nkrumah as KT. The set and costume designer Christina Smith who made each scene come alive with well thought out and beautifully orchestrated stage sets. Particular shout out to the steamy hotel room scene.

This could just be because I have spent so much of my life in hospitals but I felt so seen by this play in a way I never have before. Ashly Apapp plays Evie who is young and has arthritis, if the play could have been longer I would have loved to have seen more of Evie: her back story and future. Evie makes me cry in recognition when she says how she is just trying to stay compliant and pleasant to the medical professionals she comes into contact with, to survive. Even now it is important top me to be the most charming the most funny when in front of not just one but groups of doctors, of nurses. Because if I’m funny they might be more inclined to keep me alive. So I made jokes and turned on the charm as if I wasn’t some sick and vulnerable person in a hospital bed or doctors office, I treated it like they were my captivated ticket buying audience instead of ordinary people with an important job. That is one of the themes explored in Telethon Kid, that of how incredibly high the pedistol ia on which we place doctors and that on which some doctors place themselves.

hospital room scene from telethon kid. two people stand in front of a hospital bed on wheels. One of them is a male presenting person wearing a white lab coat. He is looking away from the other with a concerned expression on his face and his arms crossed. The other person is a female presenting character with long brown hair, wearing bright pink pants and a knitted colourful jacket. She is looking at him with her eyebrows slightly raised.

When the play finished I sat stock still as the people around me started chatting amongst themselves and gathering coats and bags. I heard someone behind me say they were not expecting the play to have some truly serious and sad moments. All I could think about was hoe visceral I found the play to be and how it flooded me with medical memories of my own that I was sure I wanted to dwell on. It was because of this that I couldn’t even bring myself to sit down and write about the play and all the things it brought up inside of me. I didn’t want to dwell. I didn’t want to feel scared and alone and terrified in that very particular way.

Every time I even thought about sitting down and writing anything. My throat would close up and I would have trouble even swallowing water. I felt the wires in my throat again and the awful scratchy feeling of the trachea in my throat. I would remind myself that I am safe now. I would name concrete objects around me as a way of keeping myself in the present. I am not dying. It was because of this that I wasn’t aching to sit and write about a play with such a sad and final ending. An ending I had evaded only a few months previous. And not for the first time. I was like a cat. It wasn’t as high as nine times but I have evaded death more times than is comfortable. I’m going to close with a poem. The haphazard and weird time lapses that occur during chronic illness and medical trauma really lends itself the poetic format.

The next time i die
I want to be happy and old

Because the last time
I was not and
So confused
thought I was
at the bottoms
of the ocean
And so far from you
I just can’t get over the image
How cute and sad it would have been
You arriving at the nurses station
With a bag of things you know I like
Being told by the nurse
with the kraken tattoo
That Ive been moved again
That I’m in icu again
That I might not pull through again
How it was so selfish of me
to leave the ward without saying goodbye
It was her last day at six south west

Wish you could explain
To me
how it felt to arrive that evening
And find a nurse
sitting in a chair
watching me sleep.
I don’t remember
pulling the tube
from my neck
But I’m still pretty proud
that even in the thick of it
I found a way to rebel
in a body
roaring into a fight

Anyway the nurse
was watching me sleep
for their entire shift.

Such attention
all eyes on me
a performance unscripted
yet compelling
in its exquisite calamity.

You took over
so she could go to the toilet.
What were you thinking ?
As you sat
with the coat I like
hugging your shoulders
your eyes on me
watching me sleep.

Some choice swears ?
too tired for even thinking
what a silly little bitch I am.
I imagine
it’s along those lines

Now, here I am
can dress myself
and sit up straight
know my name
strong enough in the mind
to give you a hard time
such a hard time.

I get so angry for no reason
and cannot sleep sometimes
get stomachs aches and chest pains
like I’m dying.

I feel as soon as I relax
Its going to grab me again.

I had such plans for what I’d be
when I came home
told you we should get a cat
and I was going to be nicer.

I thought it would all be left
under the harsh hospital lighting.

It came with me
wounds within wounds
some scars
you can touch gently
As you fall asleep
and the rest are hidden

They say it’s not my fault
say it’s to be expected
I’ve been through a lot
I would not be surprised
if some nights
you look at me asleep
and think some choice words
Goddammit you silly little bitch.

I deserve it

About The Author: Jess Knight

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Jessica Knight is a writer and conflicted heathen based in Naarm. She is currently working on a memoir novel about her childhood growing up Mormon and chronically ill on a dairy farm. You can read more of her work at www.jessicaknight.com.au or follow her at @TheMess19 and on instagram @tinywhirlwind_82.