No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Belinda Gehlert

Review: Take Up Thy Bed & Walk

This review contains mild spoilers. 

Take Up Thy Bed cast: (clockwise from top left) Gerry Shearim, Kyra Kimpton, Jo Dunbar, Emma J Hawkins & Michelle Ryan. Photo by Heath Britton.

At the opening of the double doors is Kyra Kimpton. She welcomes us into the space in small groups, where we are invited to walk around and discover. On five pillows on five beds screen projected short films animated through embroidery about young women, you can listen through headphones, read the captioning, read the braille, or, at one watch the Auslan interpretation; Michelle Ryan holds up embroidered sheets with sayings about women with disabilities; in one corner is a model of the set; in another is a live scorpion – don’t touch! reads the warning. No one says as much, but what we’re doing is part of a tactile introduction to the set and to the playing space: this functional introduction to the space presented for the blind and vision impaired before audio described shows is here part of the work itself.

Take Up Thy Bed & Walk is, by all accounts, the first “fully accessible” theatre work in Australia. While we have, in recent years, seen an increase in the amount of productions offering increased accessibility such as captioning and audio description, these performances are still infrequent in proportion to the larger season.

Take Up Thy Bed integrates access elements through the show: the four performers are joined by Auslan interpreter Gerry Shearim, who moves around the action; most of the dialogue is either captioned or projected behind the stage, with different fonts highlighting emphasis and meaning; the performers often audio describe their own actions; the music is heavy with base, reverberating through the chairs.

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Review: The Lion In The Night

Where Me and My Shadow built magic out of light and shadow, The Lion In The Night builds these moments out of innocuous objects that clutter our every day. Wendy Todd’s set is a delight of organised clutter: bric a brac, upended furniture, a washing line and a bath-tub take their place in a combination of objects which at once seem opposed from occupying the same space, while also seeing like a natural combination. These objects come together in ways which of course make sense to the imagination, but with the help of a little stage magic, the imagination comes to life.

Blowing on a lamp and the globe glows brighter, pop on the kettle and you’ll soon be able to hear the whistle, ready for tea. Pedalling away with all her might on an exercise bike, Angelie (Eliza Lovell) races through the night. Theo (Rory Walker) clacks away at an old typewriter, composing a letter which, with the power of dial-up, flies up into the rafters. Into the red and blue umbrella goes the electric beaters, winding up the umbrella until there it is as a satellite dish.

Patch’s production, jointly created by the creative team with director Dave Brown, takes just the essence from Pamela Allen’s picture book by the same name. Rather than a retelling for the stage, strands and images from Allen’s book are drawn out and played upon. Some lines and scenes are taken directly from the book – and Allen’s soft poetry sits beautifully on the stage – but others are new adventures just for these characters. The resulting play is a whopping sixteen scenes in under an hour, but this short, episodic structure works well, as we join Angelie and Theo on short bursts of their imagination. With so many strands it’s easy to imagine the work would get lost or rushed, but instead the work flows along, never disjunctured.

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Review: Pie

Pie by Gabrielle Griffin. Photo Heath Britton.

In the house of a purple gauze tent, a woman (Gabrielle Griffin, who conceived, devised and performs the work) counts money and squirrels it away in a box.  Under the ticking of a clock, she pulls out a pastry dish from a draw in a wooden cabinet, its glass cupboards filled with eggs, and proceeds to make a pie.  Out comes a puppet (designed and constructed by Rid Primrose) who checks the money in what is her box, and administers Griffin for the few coins she has taken.

What follows is Pie: a play I don’t quite know how to explain.  Structurally, there is little in ways of plot.  In fact, I am still not certain if the show was essentially following a structured plot, or if the scenes were simply thematically linked rather than lineally. Either way would be justifiable and fine in the context of the production, but it is the ambiguity that is not resolved, an uncertainness of time framing which has left me puzzled.

A word-less performance by Griffin is supported by her tender, skillful and considerate use of puppetry (there was one particular moment where the puppet climbs a ladder, and the swing of her leg up a step, a slight reverb and then rebalance in the hip struck me with such humanity it would be mundane in any other situation), but without a narrative or a history to the characters or their relationship most scenes threw up more questions than they answered.  I couldn’t explain to myself what a Ferris wheel was supposed to represent; I was confused if pills were fertility pills or The Pill; I didn’t know if scenes were dreams or reality within this world.

I thought perhaps it could be the fact that reproduction isn’t a thought or an issue in my life at the moment.  But I don’t think that precludes me from the understanding of the subject matter.  It’s a work that would certainly be easy to have a response to if reproductive issues were front and centre of your life, but I don’t think that goes hand in hand with it being inscrutable if they are not.

Letting these issues go, though, the production sits within a attractive design, changing to create new interesting surrounds throughout the production.  Through the gauzed tent design (Gaelle Mellis and Wendy Todd), the lighting (Mark Penningon) refracts in such a way to create rainbows of light glittering through the walls.  The use of shadows, while sometimes enigmatic within the narrative, formed compelling images.  Black and white animated projections (animation by Luku Kuku, projection design by Cindi Drennan) are at times clear in their intent and purpose to the show (sands through an hour glass), and at times not.

Composition and sound design (Catherine Oates and Belinda Gehlert) used a variety of styles, from the ticking of a clock, to the tango, to fairground music, to differentiae each scene.  This sound aids in the movement and responses between Griffin and her puppet, and gently pushes the pace along.

At just under an hour, Pie doesn’t outstay its welcome: there is enough in the design elements and Griffin’s work with the puppet that the production is a gentile divertissement.  Yet, I came away with the pressing question: if I didn’t know it was about reproduction, how long would it have taken me to have worked that out?  In the scenes and the structure I unfortunately lost too much to really comprehend the story Pie was trying to tell.

Vitalstatistix presents Pie, conceived, devised and performed by Gabrielle Griffin.  Design by Gaelle Mellis and Wendy Todd; lighting design by Mark Pennington; projection design by Cindi Drennan; composition and sound design by Catherine Oates and Belinda Gehlert; rehearsal director and dramaturgy by Kat Worth; puppet design, construction and consultancy by Rod Primrose; animation by Luku Kuku; outside eye and dramaturgy consultant Maude Davey.  At the Waterside Workers Hall until August 6.  More information and tickets.