Suffering from climate change

19 September 2019

Review: Alexa Taylor, Two Canaries ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 12 September ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

Climate change is overwhelming; the overwhelming issue of our time.

Inevitably, then, it presses in on the theatre – but it comes with great challenges. What we are visiting upon our planet has such enormity, but is so incremental, that it’s hard to represent or to build a dynamic stage narrative around it.

Two Canaries is about climate change, and it has been created and is staged by people with commitment and skill, so that its failure as theatre is primarily inherent in its subject rather than their attempt to explore it.

Let me explain. At one point, one of the two writer/performers (Jess Nyanda Moyle and Zoe Street) tells a story I had never heard; it seems that even after coal miners had access to more sophisticated ways of monitoring the amount of oxygen in the air they were breathing underground, they kept bringing their canaries down the mines with them, because they had grown to love the sound of their singing.

It’s an image that speaks to a sad resolve to cling to beauty in a toxic world, but, in Two Canaries, nothing comes of it. What might have been a jumping-off point full of dramatic and emotional possibilities became just a factoid – interesting, but formless.

Zoe Street in the ‘dark pool of Tessa Darcey’s impressive set’. Photo: Floyd Perrin

Two Canaries is full of cul de sacs like this; vignettes that lead us nowhere and don’t ignite a narrative. Some, like the story of Verdan Smajlovic, the cellist of Sarajevo, are, like the singing canaries, poignant and evocative; others are observant and instructive, but, taken together, they don’t constitute a drama.

In its absence, there’s a disconcerting amount of filler in Two Canaries. I’m an enormous fan of the American performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, but whether the six plus minutes from her Big Science album, with footage of street scenes from around Perth (designed by Edwin Sitt) or a long, admittedly pretty, game of making water patterns in the dark pool of Tessa Darcey’s impressive set is more than passing time is problematic.

Brooke Wilson’s violin accompaniment is effective, as is the music, especially The Cowboy Junkies’ “Mining for Gold”, the production is technically excellent (thanks to the above, and to director Alexa Taylor and lighting designer Joe Lui), and there are passages of some beauty – but there was also a deliberate but irritating awkwardness in the performances .

In the end, its subject inundates Two Canaries. It won’t be the only venture, on or off the stage to suffer that fate.

Two Canaries runs until September 28.

Pictured top are Jess Nyanda Moyle and Zoe Street in “Two Canaries”. Photo: Floyd Perrin.

Two girls sit in front of a projected image of Perth CBD
‘There are passages of some beauty’: Zoe Street and Jess Nyanda Moyle in ‘Two Canaries’. Photo: Floyd Perrin.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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