Dancing a difficult duet with love

9 June 2022

Trust and love lie at the heart of Fonder Physical Theatre’s new work about living with mental illness, writes Nina Levy.

Moody, Fonder Physical Theatre ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 8 June 2022 ·

Sometimes putting words to your feelings is near impossible.

So dancer/choreographer Ellen-Hope Thomson and performer/devisor Tristan McInnes, of local outfit Fonder Physical Theatre, have instead chosen to use physical theatre to give us an insight into their real-life relationship, both with mental illness and with each other. The result is Moody.

Entering the Blue Room Theatre I steeled myself – an autobiographical work about living with bipolar disorder sounds like heavy subject material. While Moody certainly feels emotionally raw and doesn’t shy away from confronting the challenges faced by the couple, it’s presented gently and, as promised in the publicity materials, with a dreamy touch.

Sensitively directed by George Ashforth, Moody invites us into Thomson and McInnes’s living room, to watch the difficult duet they dance. Though it’s Thomson who has the bipolar disorder diagnosis, we see how McInnes is also swept up in the by the relentless intensity of her emotions.

Thomson represents those emotions and mood-swings through movement. She joyously swings and sweeps, her face alight, but then abruptly she drops, as though felled at the knees by an unseen prankster.

In response McInnes is always trying to lift her, figuratively or literally, whether attempting to place flowers in her constantly moving hand, giving up his tea because she wants it, or performing silly comedic dances. He’s her cheerleader and he has the shiny pom-poms to prove it.

Ellen-Hope Thomson in Moody. With her arms above her head, she grasps a wash-cloth, as though trying to pull it apart.
Swept up by the relentless intensity of her mood: Ellen-Hope Thomson in ‘Moody’. Photo: Georgi Ivers

It’s a rollercoaster ride, but there’s a warmth to the work. It emanates from the sunset palette of the set, accented with splashes of orange in the wallpaper, the bookshelf’s Penguin classics, the flask and even the pom poms, all gorgeously lit to glow by Rhiannon Petersen.

That warmth is present in Ashforth’s layered sound design, too, which is punctuated with comforting guitar interludes, amidst synth and percussive tracks and found sounds. It’s sewn into Rhiana Katz’s whimsical quilt of many colours, its patches forming a landscape for a toy village.

And finally it emanates from the couple, as they find a way to navigate bipolar disorder, together.

Though it tackles a chaotic subject, Moody is a quiet work. Its impact lies not in its action but in the honesty with which the young couple lay bare their experience, in the trust they place in us as the audience, and in the absolute love between them.

Moody continues at The Blue Room Theatre until 18 June 2022.

Pictured top are Tristan McInnes and Ellen-Hope Thomson in ‘Moody’. Photo: Georgi Ivers

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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