Review: Land & Sea

by Jane

Sorry about the published draft, if you happened to catch it anyone. WordPress reaching back into the bowels, enjoy the inner workings of my brain. Here’s an interview I did with Nicki Bloom and Chris Drummond to make up for it.


There is this strange thing when I see a work which emotionally impacts me. I simultaneously feel that I need desperately to write about it, while also feeling writing about it can do nothing but transform it in a way I don’t want.

I want to sing its praises from the roof tops; I want to keep it a secret.

I want to feel I’m a good enough writer to put it into words; I feel like there is no way I possibly have the skill.

I left Land & Sea and I felt like I needed to go into a corner and cry. But I also felt safe in the space of the foyer, like I didn’t want to walk out into the world so I could find that corner I needed.

I felt, somehow, that this was the wrong emotion. The work, while filled with strands of sadness, wasn’t overall a sad story. Or, perhaps it was.

It wasn’t, perhaps, overall a story.

Land & Sea lies somewhere between a full-length play and a series of short plays. Nicki Bloom’s script is a series of scenes where soft strands ricochet off into new scenes in new worlds. These stories are softly interconnected, strands form and dissolve, visual images and text reoccur in changed states. Repeated strands or fragments build up a familiarity, a comfortableness, a welcomeness to the work. The ending visual frame of one scene might open the next; words are repeated; images crop up again; eggs come and go.

There is no great story. There are no over-reaching emotional character arcs. The characters link to each other, but are not each other. The worlds have reflections of each other, but are not the same. But maybe they are.

To write about it, perhaps, is futile.

Land & Sea is softly funny, and hauntingly sad. People’s lives are filled with hope and young love; with desperation and loneliness; with something that is sometimes magic and sometimes lies. Or maybe always magic, or always lies. Or always magic and always lies. Lies like truth. Perhaps they’re just old and confused.

Without spending too much time with any characters their reliability is never clear. We never know them enough to know all of where they’ve been or where they’re going, or perhaps even where they are. Where does a father end and an employer begin? How did this couple fall in love? How many times, in how many worlds, can we find that right person?

***

One of my favourite pieces of contemporary fiction is A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It is similar to Land & Sea in that it’s not quite a novel, not quite a series of short stories. Each chapter in Egan’s novel has a new protagonist, a character tangentially linked to a character we’ve meet before. But Egan doesn’t tell you these connections straight up, and the sooner you learn to stop intimately searching for the connection, the easier they come to you.

That’s the way I sat though Land & Sea: I didn’t try to force on it a narrative or connections, I didn’t try to desperately search for a “meaning.” Perhaps it’s there and perhaps it’s not, but to look for that one thing would obscure everything else.

In an attempt to understand, I suspect the ideas would become murky. In the end, I don’t know if Land & Sea is a work which you can understand, or which even asks to be understood.

***

It seems as I write this down and I think of you, dear reader, reading this, that the work is eminently confusing. And maybe it is. But at the same time, it’s not at all. Chris Drummond’s direction holds a steady hand over the work, gliding scene from scene, scenario to scenario.

As much as the work is a mystery, Durmmond’s direction pulls it together into a wholly singular – if not wholly coherent – piece of theatre. Drummond places the puzzle pieces together through images and emotions; capturing and tying Bloom’s words up into small portraits which are then, too, captured into the wider frame.

Much of this work relies on his cast; and the cast carry the work on sure shoulders. The delicate pairing of Danielle Catanzariti and Thomas Conroy; the roughness that Rory Walker often carries in his characters; Jacqy Phillips’ hold of the stage: the performances are uniformly wonderful. It’s an assured cast, and it is a joy to watch them exploit their skills. Despite the small glimpse into these characters’ lives we are given, the four still create and share with us humans.

On cello and piano, Hilary Kleinig’s live music mixes with recorded sound and the occasional song from the cast, and haunts through the theatre. At moments, even in a tin shed in the middle of the city, silence is honoured, before the thick soundscape again builds up and encompasses the space.

It’s the sweeps which carry you through the play: sweeps of Drummond’s hand, of the cast’s rolling performances, of Kleinig’s emotionally carrying and encompassing music. Of worlds, characters, and sounds which take us across lands and times, through familiar and unfamiliar, and yet always of the same coherent place. Of the theatre.

***

Adelaide’s Queen’s Theatre is the oldest theatre on mainland Australia. It is a definition we need to let go of. It is, I think, Adelaide’s most beautiful warehouse. After being gutted as a theatre over a century ago, it has stood with its tin roof and concrete floor, empty, for many years.

This is the beauty of the building: its transformations. There is a history to the building, yes, but you don’t feel the history of an old theatre in there. You feel the history of a transformed space; you await the new space which will great you.

Wendy Todd’s design with Geoff Cobham’s lighting are their own pieces of transformation: growing, shrinking, morphing throughout the work. We watch the piece behind gauze curtains, over red dirt, into hotel rooms. We’re lit in skys of red, in seas of blue, in the clear of white.

Sometimes, the set will transform with stage magic, sometimes with the entirely unhidden hands of the stage hands. As he did in Harbinger, Drummond embraces the the need for obvious human hands when the slight of hand won’t work. He doesn’t interrupt the magic of his cast by asking them to make the changes, the worlds change around them.

***

 Through all this, Bloom’s text and Drummond’s direction has managed to convey a strange sense of honesty. Through the magic; through the images; through the transforming worlds; through the piece of theatre which I still don’t understand, or understand why I felt so emotional after it ended: something feels right.

***

Often, when a play isn’t following a traditional trajectory, when you as an audience member can’t place yourself in the arc of the play and feel how far through the production you are, you can’t measure how many beats the work will hit before you reach the end of the show can become frustrating. This unknownness of how far you’ve come and how far you have to go can vex.

Land & Sea has no such measure. Yet at just under 90 minutes, Land & Sea feels like it hasn’t barely began while also feeling it has gone on for ages. It feels as if it could go on forever, and that forever would be okay.

Brink Productions’ Land & Sea by Nicki Bloom, directed by Chris Drummond. Design by Wendy Todd, music direction by Hilary Kleinig, lighting design by Geoff Cobham, produced by Kay Jamison. With Rory Walker, Danielle Catanzariti, Jacqy Phillips, Thomas Conroy, and Kleinig as the musician. At Queen’s Theatre until May 26. More information and tickets. 

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