Theatre review: Hatched 2011

by **

Dear Dad

I leave the third and last night of Hatched 2011 with a sensational thespian experience –and with some regrets. Because navigating though four — no, five — highly innovative productions by Melbourne’s emerging artists over two hours in a single night is nothing short of exhilarating, it makes missing out on the other eight shows little short of tragic.

A first-time audience in this annual event, faced with a fascinating array of monologues, dance, music, installations, experiential theatre or combinations of these, I select the four shows this night will accomodate with a bit of fluster and more than a bit of pain.

Nevertheless, the lineup turns out to be a steadily building crescendo that culminates in a delightful explosion of theatre craft and extraordinary talent.

Dead White Guys showcases Anna van Veldhuisen’s concern for the demise of classical music — less in terms of its auditory presence than in its spirit. By juxtaposing live music from an elegant string quartet (especially violinist Samantha Law and cellist Lore Burns), filmed interviews with the livelier of these musicians and solitary actor Tim Sneddon’s caricatural portrayals of Bach, Mozart, Beethovan and Debussy, Veldhuisen highlights the blatant gulf between contemporary artists’ understanding about the psyche of traditional composers and the actual passion that inspired the legendary works. In spite or perhaps because of distractions from simultaneous demands to read (the interview subtitles), to watch (Sneddon’s stylised performance), and to concentrate on (the live renditions), one leaves echoing the director’s sentiments about music bereft of soul and sharing in her hopes for the resurrection of the Dead White Guys.

Timothy Jones’ Thrills and Swoons is set in a 1950s suburban library. An immaculate librarian, who sits tapping on her Olivetti, berates visitors for talking in her dominion. After telling a schoolgirl that ‘clit-o-ris’ is the name of an exotic Spanish dish, she sets off a salacious sequence where cupcakes and eclairs are used as luscious metaphors for lust and sex. Reading a steamy chapter from a mawkish romantic novel, she unleashes a visceral sensuality that bursts through her prudish veneer. And as she writhes on the edge of her humble desk, her motley clutch of visitors too slithers with breathless abandonment and insatiable hunger for carnal yearnings, to astonishing effect.

Maysa Abouzeid’s Birdsnest, on the other hand, is a poignant and deeply affecting piece of experiential theatre. Under usherer Celeste Abell’s guidance, the audience is invited to a transitory experience of the life of the blind before being disgorged into a cool, airconditioned enclave. And there, Abouzeid sits, placid, in a snow-white dress beside a snow-white dog; she seems an epitome of peace and unshakeable serenity — until she lets us into her inner world, that is. With a number of lead-glass ornaments, the visually impaired artist eloquently demonstrates how the kaleidescope of colours and images inaccessible by touch are forever denied to her. Then, through a heartfelt narrative in which the bird’s nest is used as an analogy for one’s sense of security, she relays her permanent dependence on her own bird’s nest, her lament about never being able to live up to other people’s hopes and dreams, her own longing to be loved as she is and be regarded as beautiful the way she is. I leave with tears in my eyes.

If you think you can escape to the bathroom to collect yourself, however, think again. For in this festival hosted by St Martins Youth Arts Centre, Mattie Young’s Privates will effectively unsettle you where you least expect it. There is a young couple enmeshed in a cubicle in the Women’s toilet; a young performer is drawing on the mirror in the Men’s lavatory. There are men in the Women’s and women in Men’s. And a couple of sweet biscuits to nibble on during ablutions in what is a challenging and provocative experience that thwarts all conventions.

Still, the final production for me on attendance night is the one that leaves the deepest impression. Georgia Mill’s Places we make for the people we love explores how we cling to places as a wistful reminder of both happy and unhappy times. The stage with a smattering of amorphous sculptural pieces strewn on the floor is deftly transformed into a set with monkey bar, slide and children’s swings. Then, in a spectacular allegory delivered as a monologue, the sculptor-performer depicts how being a parent can be as fortuitous as an unexpected encounter at a public space.

With uncompromising boldness, Mill is unflinchingly honest about parents’ reluctant responsibilities sometimes undertaken purely to avoid being accused of dereliction of duty. Sacrificing their own opportunities that may just be ripe, they hope the ordeal of child-raising will be but a temporary thing. But as the burden becomes heavier, the task more uncomfortable, letting go only gets harder, and harder still, until they are left old and alone, hanging on to those places, those things, those memories, their own dreams lay wasted in the visible distance.

Somewhat reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Mill’s play is a brave and sobering creation that absolutely glimmers in conception and execution.

Leaving the theatre, I overhear excited chatter about Bek Berger’s Born So Beautiful. A surprise party that brings all the audience along into her theatrical world, this is one in the repertory I wish I did not have to miss.