Compagnie XY Il n'est pas encore minuit
Circus, News, Performing arts, Reviews

Hoopla! Hoopla!

Perth Festival review: Il n’est pas encore minuit by Compagnie XY·
Regal Theatre, 9 February ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·

I don’t have a whole heap of regrets, but one that I do have is never having learned to do anything really incredible.  I’m not talking about learning to speak Spanish fluently, or playing the trombone…these are admirable skills to be sure, but they are not incredible.  I mean doing a triple axle on ice-skates, or starting a fire with two sticks, or memorizing the phone book.  Doing backflips off someone’s shoulders definitely counts.  It’s a skill that evokes sheer wonder.

This sense of wonder filled the Regal Theatre last Friday when an underpacked house witnessed the spectacle that is Compagnie XY.  The French troupe of acrobats are renowned for pushing the limits of the human body…Il n’est past encore minuit (It is not yet midnight) does just that.  The show begins with a series of authentic-seeming wrestles between the players – so authentic that I convinced my junior companions that I’d forgotten it was actually a fighting show, not an acrobat show we were here to see.  The mild tension built by these fierce tackles quickly changed to laughter when two very petite women took centre-stage, wrestling with such brutality that it felt a bit like watching a couple of elves having a battle.

Wrestling transformed seamlessly into throwing…the throwing of bodies, that is.  Watching how easily bodies were propelled into the air, it was difficult to remember that these were actual human beings being tossed around, rather than feather-weight fairy people.  One of the really refreshing aspects of Compagnie XY is the sheer diversity of human forms within the circus.  Of course, one has the petite women and men who form the top of human towers, but there were also a good number of more generously proportioned individuals.  Remarkably, these latter figures were also frequently airborne.  There’s a spirit of egalite here in all aspects of play.  The usual gender roles one observes within the circus are regularly flouted – women suspending smaller men; the troupe holding men aloft, rather than the usual female star.

There’s also a vast range of ages performing – I haven’t been able to pin down the age of the troupe’s founder, Abdeliazide Senhadji, but let’s just say he has the silver hair and bearing of someone in his late 40’s or early 50’s.  Others are barely into their 20’s.  It’s a novel and gorgeous thing to witness such a disparate group of bodies coming together in perfect cohesion.

And there is so much to witness!  One’s eyes flit ceaselessly around the Regal’s sizeable stage, trying not to miss a thing.  This is impossible – you’re caught up in an elaborately arranged pile of humans when suddenly from stage left a body literally flies into view.  Highlights included a sequence involving four humans standing atop each other’s shoulders; a perfectly average-sized man being propelled into the air off a plywood platform, executing a triple backflip; a tower of three humans collapsing forward into a group of catchers only to remain assembled and then tipped backwards into the arms of other catchers.  Ridiculous!  My personal favourite was a subtle routine wherein players had another player standing on their shoulders…they then strolled calmly about, no hands supporting the weight of the human atop them.

Mix in an eclectic mix of music and you’re left with a wonderfully entertaining hour, thoroughly deserving of the gasping admiration and standing ovation from the audience.

Fabulous. I implore you to see it.  No really – go and book your ticket now.

Il n’est pas encore minuit runs until February 17th

Photo: Perth Festival

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A tense and captivating ride

Review: An Almost Perfect Thing, Gabrielle Metcalf –
The Blue Room Theatre, 15 August –
Reviewed by Claire Trolio –

Three characters search for connection: an abductee, her kidnapper and a journalist. Nicole Moeller’s psychological thriller An Almost Perfect Thing has been brought to life by Perth director Gabrielle Metcalf, at the Blue Room Theatre.

Chloe (Daisy Coyle) has been held captive for the last six years. Taken when she was 12 years old, we meet an 18 year old Chloe running, gasping as she finds her way home. Past Oak, Pine and Crabapple Streets she makes it to her father’s house, and what follows is her story. But is it her story; can she own it? An Almost Perfect Thing is a clever discourse on who has the right to the truth when it is the victim who holds the answers.

It’s a recognisable tale: a young girl is captured to re-emerge later. When she does, the police want the facts and the public feel entitled to know the truth about what happened to her. The play questions whether a victim has an obligation to share what she knows (not least to prevent future crimes) and also contemplates the motive behind protecting her attacker. Coyle’s portrayal of Chloe reveals the character’s intelligence and strength, whilst wrestling with trauma and vulnerability. She’s a girl who wants to discover normality at the same time as relishing her celebrity status.

For every captive there is a captor, and Mathew (Nick Maclaine) is a lost man… introverted, alone and desperate for a family. He’s a monster, but he too is a victim. Not much is said of it, but a complicated relationship with his own parents seems to have led to his psychiatric illness and compulsion to “save” Chloe by abducting her.

The third character is Greg (Andrew Hale), a struggling journalist who wrote about Chloe’s disappearance six years earlier. Chloe chooses to reveal her story to Greg so that it will be published in a manner that she regulates. The power struggle between Chloe, obsessed with control; Greg, who is  desperate for a good story as much as he is captivated by its subject; and the public’s demand for answers is a tense and captivating ride.

L to R: Nick Maclaine (Mathew), Daisy Coyle (Chloe), Andrew Hale (Greg). Photo: Pixel Poetry.

The tensions are compounded by Christian Peterson and Andrew Michie’s sound design. A simple sound score quickly transports us to the inside of a bar and out again with no need for a set change. But it’s the addition of a jarringly high pitched note at crucial times that makes us feel the characters’ anxieties, anguish and lack of control. It’s remarkably effective.

Meanwhile, set and costume designer Tyler Hill, who recently made his mark designing for Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Endgame and The Eisteddfod, shows why he’s in high demand. The blackened set is at once confined (dark and boxy) and free (nothing physical demarcates time and place), covered in dismembered mannequins that reflect the fragmented selves of the characters. Hill’s set helps question whether Chloe’s newfound freedom is in fact illusory as she remains suffocated beneath a bodyguard and her psychological trauma.

In the session I attended something seemed to be distracting the actors, causing a number of dialogue errors by each of the three on stage. Fortunately the misjudged cues compounded a feeling of confusion, torment and powerlessness that was a major part of each characters’ psyche, rather than detracting from my enjoyment.

Running at just under two hours, An Almost Perfect Thing is longer than usual for a production at the Blue Room, yet doesn’t feel it. Every one of the 110 minutes is compelling theatre, a suspenseful piece that caught me off guard and stayed with me long after leaving the theatre.

An Almost Perfect Thing plays the Blue Room Theatre until 26 August.

Pictured top: Nick Maclaine (Mathew) and Daisy Coyle (Chloe). Photo: Pixel Poetry.

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Dark, disturbing depiction of dysfunction

Review: The Eisteddfod, Black Swan State Theatre Company –
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA –
28 June 2017 –
Reviewed by Nina Levy –

Oscillating between funny and disturbing, The Eisteddfod, by Australian playwright Lally Katz, defies easy definition. There’s a touch of the absurd about the plot, which follows the fortunes of Abalone (Brendan Ewing) and Gerture (Natalie Holmwood), siblings who have lived together since their parents died in a freak accident. Each has an obsession – Abalone’s is winning an unnamed eisteddfod, Gerture’s is her abusive lover Ian. Fearing he will lose his sister to her obsession, Abalone draws her into his, persuading her to enter the eisteddfod as Lady Macbeth opposite his Macbeth. In the scenes that unfold, past and present, adulthood and childhood, and fantasy and reality blend and blur.

At times The Eisteddfod feels gratuitous in its depiction of dysfunctional sexual relationships. The fact that the play premiered back in 2004, when Katz was just 26, makes these scenes  both less and more surprising. That rawness, that desire to shock feels typical of a young, independent writer. At the same time, Katz’s ability to confront and discomfort the viewer is remarkable for one as young as she was at the time of writing.

The Eisteddfod
Brendan Ewing & Natalie Holmwood in ‘The Eisteddfod’. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

The flip-side of The Eisteddfod is the humour that liberally peppers the work, delivered here with dexterity by director Jeffrey Jay Fowler and his creative team and cast. Depicted via Brett Smith’s cartoon-like sound effects, the death of Abalone and Gerture’s parents (tree-pruning accident) is flippantly slapstick and sets the tone for the remainder of the play. Particularly delightful is a scene in which the action segues unexpectedly from Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy to a Scottish disco circa 1983, complete with era-appropriate choreography.

Together with lighting by Lucy Birkinshaw, Tyler Hill’s spare, smoke-stained set allows scenes to melt seamlessly into one another. The space atop the cupboards becomes a classroom, a disco ball appears from under a cardboard box, an air-conditioning vent becomes a street-lit window.

Ewing and Holmwood were outstanding, both in their primary roles as Abalone and Gerture, and in their ability to slide in and out of various secondary characters. As Abalone, Ewing was fantastically awkward, with a strange, spidery grace to his gangly limbs. Holmwood’s Gerture was dry, droll and desperate.

The Eisteddfod is not for the faint-hearted and I found its particular brand of shock therapy increasingly difficult to tolerate as the play progressed. Nonetheless, Katz’s voice is compelling. Recommended for those who like their humour black.

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