AdlFringe Review: The Unstoppable, Unsung Song of Shaky M

by Jane


It’s an interesting question, I think, how much our knowledge of a work impacts our reactions to it and how we, as writers, have to measure these up in our responses. I’d seen One for the Ugly Girls in its original production, and while they didn’t make the review, many of my thoughts after the Adelaide Fringe production were concerning the differences that the casting, in particular, made to the presentation of the work.

I’d read Like a Fishbone several months before the Fringe season was announced, and had been familiar with the work even before that through reviews of the Sydney season.

Seeing …him for the second time I wasn’t quite as taken. While I still loved it, perhaps knowing its progression mean I couldn’t be taken on the same journey. I cried the first time: was that the work, or my slight homesickness?

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M was on in the Melbourne Fringe when I was there, and came recommended, but I couldn’t fit it into my schedule. I then saw Rowena Hutson speak on a panel [podcast dated 12/10/12] with several other fringe artists, where she spoke a bit about the show and her background. So I think it’s fair to say I knew quite a bit about the show going in.

And so after I penned down this review, I went to see what Jake Orr wrote about the work. He walked into the show largely blind, and we came out with very different responses. Perhaps, of course, our perspectives would have been exactly the same had our roles been reversed. Who knows? I do know this is why we need multiple voices writing about art. And I do know I’ll greatly miss having Jake in Adelaide to talk about such things.

But then, here I go, my thoughts. How much they’ll mould yours before or after meeting Shaky M, I don’t know.

The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M is a small, gently humorous clowning piece about a young woman, Shaky M (Rowena Hutson). As the audience files in and takes their seats, she sits on stage, idly tracing her finger across the ground. Her right foot shakes. A constant jiggle in her ankle. It doesn’t stop shaking for the next hour, as Shaky M tells us her unsung story.

Wordlessly tells us her story. With scene titles written in a large sketchbook, she tries to read them out but breathlessly can’t catch her voice on the words. The audience reading will have to suffice.

Shaky M’s affection is never specified, but the work is inspired by Hutson’s mother and Parkinson’s Disease, and the presence of humour the two women now find in their lives and in the disability.

What carries the work is Hutson’s affability: her generous smile, her sparkling eyes, trying to catch her overwhelmed giggle behind her hands. Shaky M is a smiling, giggling, trembling woman, who is caught up in the joy of having an audience. Of her story we get but glimpses: a close friendship, a small dance, a Marty McFly wheelchair crash adventure.

The audience / performer relationship here is an interesting one. Hutson constantly eggs her audience on for applause, and at times this feels a bit strained on the audience’s behalf, and like Hutson is still finding her way in these performer situations.

Communicating and presenting to her audience constantly, at one point Hutson directly called for the audience to throw her the cushions sitting on their chairs. There were other moments when I thought, perhaps, she was asking for help, too. But then I wondered: how much of that is me simply projecting onto this character? But if she was asking, would anyone have broken the contract of theatre to get out of his or her seat and help?

Through and through, though, I kept on coming back into the work through Hutson. Her relationship with the audience seems to work best when she’s not straining for the applause, but is simply being: sharing the space, Shaky M’s story, and her smile.

Dr S and Professor J in association with THE BRAIN present The Unstoppable, Unsung Story of Shaky M, created and performed by Rowena Hutson, directed by Xanthe Beesley. At Tuxedo Cat for the Adelaide Fringe until Feb 26. More information and tickets. 

Photo by Sarah Walker.