Second Echo Ensemble is a collaboration between the Tasmanian Theatre Company and Cosmos Recreational Services. Some of the young performers in the ensemble are disabled, others are not.
It’s an imaginative initiative that has led to some powerful results with The Company I Keep. The benefits of such a project are many. You get the feeling that, for many of the performers, just being a part of this production is a profoundly enriching experience.
The best moments in The Company I Keep are the most unvarnished: brothers and sisters squabbling and chasing each other with abandon, a man’s struggle with feelings of hopelessness, the co-dependent dance of lovers. In these moments, where we don’t quite understand what’s happening but we’re left waiting, mesmerised… wondering.
When two sisters dance together, mimicking each other and teasing, there’s a truth being expressed. We hang on every movement, every gesture. Where is this going, and what does it mean?
Unfortunately, it’s not often enough that that kind of tension is allowed to build. The production tends to rely on other devices to hold our attention, as though the presence of mere human beings on stage is not enough.
Certainly, the music used is emotionally resonant and apt, but having it playing throughout the piece is unnecessary. This is a show that doesn’t contain much dialogue, so when one of the male performers (I can’t identify him by name as the program doesn’t put names to faces) starts on the first of several monologues he has to offer he really gets our attention.
He speaks fluidly and naturally about what the concept of “girls” means to him (later it’s “boys” and then “love”) These little speeches are frank and amusing (girls like girl bands, boys like boy bands!). Sadly, at least during Thursday night’s performance, it was difficult to catch all that was being said, with loud music with lyrics being played all the while.
Similarly, the videos played throughout The Company I Keep are touching and professionally executed but are they necessary? Why, when we have real people on stage, performers who have worked long and hard to create a piece of entertainment, do we need this pre-recorded element?
We are introduced to a range of people: some couples, some parents with their children, some sibling groups. They walk into frame, sit down, and look at the camera – cheerfully, or perhaps nervously – and then exit. These are striking vignettes, but you can’t watch them while watching what all the actors are doing on stage. The screen is placed prominently on stage and clearly intended to command our attention.
The device is far more successful, therefore, when the on-stage performers interact with the video component: for instance, when two members of the Second Echo Ensemble (seemingly a real-life couple) are on screen together, and they lean in to kiss each other. Moments later their ‘live’ counterparts lean in to do the same thing. This is a nice moment. “This is who we pretend to be,” perhaps they are saying, and, “Look, it’s also who we really are.”
The Company I Keep is about love and connection and all the permutations of that, whether you’re disabled, or not, or single or married; whoever you are. It’s rather broad in scope, and the generalising nature of the video clips doesn’t help to narrow the focus. As an audience member, I’m not really interested in everyone’s experience, I’m interested in the people who are on stage; whether that means the performers themselves or characters they choose to portray.
We do get tantalising, wonderful glimpses of that, and at times you know how real and how sincere this brand of self-expression is. The young man who kisses his girlfriend had previously performed to a title card that read, “How I feel about Alex.” He is alone on stage, unselfconscious, and as he moves you know that he’s thinking it out in that moment. He’s trying to express what perhaps cannot be expressed, how he really feels. This is not a bunch of clichés about love but the unvarnished truth. Emotional honesty and commitment to the process is evident in the work of every single performer in this ensemble.
Tasmanian Theatre Company presents the Second Echo Ensemble
The Company I Keep
Writer / Director Finegan Kruckemeyer
Venue: Peacock Theatre, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart
Dates: May 20 – 22
Duration: 45 Minutes (no interval)