Red LashesRed Lashes was first staged in 2005 as a creative development project at the Midland Railway Workshop. The new version, part of the 20th Unima Congress of World Puppetry Festival, was made especially for this year's event, which was organized by the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Perth. A friend of mine, who saw the first staging of Red Lashes, told me it was fantastic and looked a little bit disappointed with the new version. I didn’t have the opportunity to see the play in 2005, but at least in one point my friend's disappointment made sense: the play this time didn't take advantage, like it did in 2005, of the atmosphere and the historic background of the place where it was staged.

Red Lashes is a site-specific play, which means it doesn’t take place in a traditional theatre. In 2005, the performance was not only set at the Midland Railway site, but also used some of its stories. In a site-specific play the location functions like an extra character, changing many aspects of the play. Also, the fact that the public is in a hospital or a church has a big impact on their perception of the play.

In this year's staging, the producers of Red Lashes chose for its site the City farm, an old engineering yard turned into an organic garden, near Perth's CBD. The place is wonderful, somewhat scary, which is good, and decrepit, which is also good for staging site-specific plays. The director Tim Watts, however, didn’t know how to take advantage of its atmosphere.

Every time a site-specific plays changes its site, it’s important for the director and also for the actors to find which elements the place has that can be introduced in the performance. Like I said, the site is another character, and, sometimes, the most important one, so he must be listened to. The City Farm, for example, is close to the railway. During the play, I could hear, every now and then, the noise of a passing train. Unfortunately, the actors/characters seemed to ignore the presence of these ambient sounds, which is a pity considering that one of the main characters runs away from her family, possibly by train.

This small short-sightedness, however, doesn’t really ruin the play. Red Lashes is an impressive work, which in the form presented would have been impressive inside a traditional theatre. What I think is that if the chosen location's peculiarities had been better integrated to the play, it might have become more impressive.

Again, like in “Woyzeck in the Highveld”, another of Unima's plays I reviewed recently, the idea of mixing actors, puppets and animation is brilliant, and it works fantastically. The text, by Jeffrey Jay Fowler is inventive, non-sensical, funny and at the same time sad. The actors work together and they avoid very well any type of acting cliché. Brendan Ewing is one of the best on stage, especially when he impersonates the storyteller. The puppets, beautifully designed and made, are backed by animations showed in two small screens, which give the play an extra touch of fable.

Invited especially for this year's re-staging of Red Lashes for Unima, the director Tim Watts made a mistake by not integrating more site and play, but did a wonderful job working with the actors. He also was very fortunate in using the scenario in a cinematographic way. The house where the sad story of Annie and her drunken father takes place is a small wooden house with wheels on its bottom. When the actors move it backwards and forwards, or they turn it around, the public experienced the impression of a moving camera, able to make close-ups of the characters or of specific scenes. It was so successful that he could have used the moving scenario a bit more, but he did a good job for a first experience.

Although I knew Red Lashes had been a success when it was first staged, I didn’t go to the City Farm with much expectation, but at the end I was very pleased with the vitality of such young and innovative performance.

Red Lashes

City Farm
Dates/Times: Tue 8 - Fri 11 @ 7:30pm
Duration: 50 minutes
Tickets: $16
Bookings: Tickets available on the door, unless sold out prior to the event

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