Tasty home-grown honey

5 May 2018

Review: Rorschach Beast, Hive Mind ·
Blue Room Theatre, 3 May ·
Review by Xan Ashbury ·

Monday nights in 1991 are forever etched in my mind. I was in my first year of an arts degree and Twin Peaks was on the telly. Hello postmodern subjectivism. Goodbye forever to easy labels of truth and reality; good and evil. From the White Lodge to the Log Lady, it was unsettling yet utterly compelling.

On Thursday night at the Blue Room, again, Hive Mind delivered food for thought, with a side of nostalgia.

Written and directed by Geordie Crawley, Hive Mind is a quirky exploration of truth, faith, power and the human need for connection. It can be read as examining the way insecurities and trauma leave people open to the seductive lure of charisma and group-think. But like Twin Peaks, with which it shares many intertextual links, it rejects moralising and leaves interpretation up to the audience.

Hive Mind begins with the disappearance of 16-year-old Haley Woodward, in Box Elder Canyon. Even the detective is called Dale (St John Cowcher).

Hive Mind
A magnetic quality: Haydon Wilson as Austin.

Haydon Wilson plays Dale’s boyfriend Austin, the disturbed (or enlightened?) central character, dangerously obsessed with a beehive. He believes it grants him insight into the true nature of the universe and a portal to the missing girl, who gives him cryptic messages.

Elise Wilson plays the mysterious Haley, transported to an extra-dimensional realm by the power of the hive’s light.

Charlotte Otton gives a compelling performance as home-coming police officer Kate, desperate to throw off the “Kit Kat Katy” tag bestowed on her by merciless school bully-turned-city councillor, Jackie (Alicia Osyka), who wants to purchase land in Box Elder Canyon for a development project (the Twin Peaks parallels keep on coming).

Cowcher skilfully portrays the struggle to halt Austin’s descent (or ascent, depending on your perspective) into madness.

If this sounds intellectually taxing and grim from an audience perspective, fear not. There is a magnetic quality to Wilson’s performance. He lights up the stage and manages to lure other characters and the audience into his delusion. “First you see the light, then you step into the light, and then you become the light,” he preaches. For part of the show, the audience is positioned as members of his cult – it’s a clever ploy that provides an immersive and unsettling experience.

The design elements – set by Cherish Marrington, lighting by Scott McArdle, and original score by Robert Woods – are spare but affecting. A hexagonal stage reinforces the hive theme and a wooden box becomes almost a character in itself.

One of the things that made Twin Peaks a cult classic was the characters’ eccentricity and elasticity, making labels of good and evil irrelevant. Stock characters evolved over the series, challenging the audience’s values and preconceptions. Crawley seems to take the same approach with characterisation but this is hard to achieve in such a short time frame. While I appreciate the concept, the dramatic changes we see (in Jacquie, particularly) were jarring.

Members of the audience are bound to come to the show with different thoughts and experiences of “hive mind” as a phenomenon. Some embrace, and feel energised by, being part of a collective; others are moved to regularly unhook from the digitised hive mind of the internet, finding it an echo chamber. In his director’s notes, Crawley describes The Blue Room as the hive mind that keeps the Perth theatre community healthy. Again, I appreciated his paradoxical approach. He is to be commended for inviting the audience to taste and ponder, rather than force-feeding a totalising truth.

Hive Mind is no “damn fine cherry pie”, but it is a tasty piece of toast, laced with home-grown honey.

Hive Mind runs until May 19.

Pictured top: St John Cowcher as Dale and Alicia Osyka as Jackie. Photo: Marshall Stay.

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Author —
Xan Ashbury

Xan Ashbury is a teacher who spent a decade writing for newspapers and magazines in Australia and the UK. She won the Shorelines Writing for Performance Prize in 2014-17. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the flying fox.

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