Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Adventures in the shadowlands

5 February 2022

Sometimes cute and other times creepy, Dyad takes audiences back to the eerie uncertainties of childhood, writes Claire Coleman.

Dyad, Jordan Valentini ·
After Dark, 4 February 2022 ·

Remaking a childhood-style fantasy for an adult palate is well-trodden territory in popular culture – think Pan’s Labyrinth or Stranger Things. Playing in this creative space in his work Dyad, local emerging writer and director Jordan Valentini drags to the surface audience recollections of that period of early childhood when you couldn’t always tell what was real and what was imaginary.

We open to Nox (Courtney Henri) and Faena (Gabriella Munro) on a dimly lit stage, using a torch to make shadow hand puppets for one another during a storm.

The scene suddenly pivots from reality to fantasy, as Faena is captured by a menacing shrouded figure and taken to a shadow realm on the other side of their torchlight. Nox follows, determined to rescue her friend, and we are thrust into a mysterious two-dimensional world of darkness and light, familiar and uncanny, good and evil. 

Moving through this strange realm, Nox encounters a cast of unusual creatures, brought to life compellingly by an ensemble of Matthew Arnold, Finn Forde and Isaac Powell.

Some are helpful, like the friendly and instantly loveable Shadow Rabbit. Some are villains, like Faena’s kidnapper, who hovers threateningly over several scenes. Others are just strange, like the giant snail or the many-armed man.

The bulk of Dyad‘s performance is communicated only through shadows, and in the absence of facial expressions the cast does a good job of constructing its characters; Nox’s determination, Faena’s perseverance, the shrouded figure’s maleficence, Shadow Rabbit’s kindheartedness.

Several scenes play effectively with perspective, with characters shrinking to fit into a cage, or growing suddenly enormous.

While shadow puppetry has a lot of charm, Dyad loses itself a bit in its exploration of the medium. The basic rescue narrative arc is plain, but its ins and outs are not easy to follow, and if the intent was to disorient the audience then this could have been done in a more wholehearted way. 

Caught between an earnest story and a desire to exploit the whimsy of shadow puppetry, Dyad makes a fair attempt at both but doesn’t quite nail either.

Dyad continues until 7 February 2022

Pictured top: Courtney Henri as Nox in ‘Dyad’. Photo: supplied

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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