Jellyman is just the ticket

30 October 2020

Live theatre is back at The Blue Room, with a new play that’s exciting, pertinent and ambitious, reports David Zampatti.

The Jellyman, Rhiannon Petersen ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 29 October 2020 ·

Perth’s little theatre that can, The Blue Room, has emerged, bravely but cautiously, from the long, bleak tunnel of coronavirus, with a show that shares its courage but has none of its prudence.

Local playwright Rhiannon Petersen’s The Jellyman is exciting, pertinent and ambitious theatre, much larger in scope and impact than the small package it arrives in. There’s great finesse in its execution, matching the quality of its conception.

The Jellyman exemplifies the strength of the Perth independent theatre makers who gravitate around the Blue. I’m sure it would be a hit in that space whenever it was presented; coming when it does, it’s a godsent antidote to what has ailed us in this bastard of a year.

There’s a story here, though not a narrative. It’s a journey through the mind of a character (Petersen) who is unravelled by the death of truth, in a world where “I know that for a fact” – the play’s mantra – is untrue in every particular, where every face is a mask, where every word spoken is just mouths moving to the beat of someone else’s drum.

Magnetic and buoyant: Playwright Rhiannon Petersen in her play ‘The Jellyman’. Photo: Tashi Hall

Inevitably, the falsest words and most deceptive masks occupy the world’s palaces, and the Trumps, Morrisons, Johnsons and Abbotts don’t so much have a blowtorch applied to them as an explosive concoction of anger and ridicule detonated up where the sun doesn’t shine. Petersen’s idea is that we become occupied by their “garbage”, and our own self-belief – “I know that for a fact” – betrays us.

There’s much of 1984 and contemporary Russian theatre (anyone who saw Dmitry Krymov’s wonderful Opus No. 7 at the 2017 Perth Festival will recognise the kinship here). There’s a large dollop of agitprop, a little Monty Python and some Brecht in the pot.

Petersen and her director Sam Nerida (See You Next Tuesday) have devised an exhilarating, propulsive mix of story-telling techniques from puppetry to lip-synching and physical theatre (I note that dancer/choreographer Rachel Arianne Ogle is thanked in the programme), and its delivery is exemplary.

That’s due in large part to the creative talent that’s been gathered around the project; Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting is superb, as is the layer cake of sound devised by Joe Lui, whose wonders never cease. Jessica Harlond-Kenny’s puppets are fantastical and surprising, as are Nicole Marrington’s costumes and Michelle Aitken’s illustrations.

There is great craft and art in the design/performance matrix.

On stage, James McMillan is sinuous and sinister as an all-purpose roustabout in a performance that would steal most shows. Not this one though, because Petersen is infected with its microbes, and explosive in its realisation. It’s a truly magnetic, buoyant performance – a revelation.

What a way to welcome our own, homegrown theatre back. The Jellyman is exactly what we’ve been missing.

The Jellyman continues until 7 November 2020.

Pictured top is the sinuous and sinister James McMillan in ‘The Jellyman’. Photo: Tashi Hall

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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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