It goes without saying that Four Larks is a formidable force in the Melbourne independent theatre scene. With three 2010 Green Room Awards sitting in the cabinet and a constant buzz about what the company is up to, you expect bigger and better things from their work every time you’re privy to it. With the latest production Undine, the company has moved into a new space and delivered their trademark junkyard opera with professionalism, and a delicate inventiveness.
Undine takes the audience on the journey of ‘A Man’ (played in equal parts, and as one, by Ben Pfeiffer, Luke Jacka and Paul Bourke) as he writes, and concurrently lives, the song of finding his love, losing her and discovering her again. Inspired by the novel Undine, (by writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué) the story is set in the Man’s small, run-down shack by the sea. After a raging storm, the Man finds himself and ‘A Stranger’ (played by Karen Sibbing) thrown onto the beach and he has no recollection of how he managed to end up back on the beach, or the identity of the woman. She is brought into his life and home and what follows is the tale of their relationship; an uncovering of their fears and secrets and, ultimately, the Man’s quest to finish his song.
The production, as a whole, is really quite beautiful. While the depth of thought behind the processes within the piece is substantial, the company has managed to make it look effortless. The performances are solid and the actors work with dedication to find the public and private faces of their characters. Ben Pfeiffer, Luke Jacka and Paul Bourke bring different nuances to the role of the Man, which complement the Stranger’s interaction with each. Karen Sibbings’ performance is delightfully engaging.
The live music (composed and directed by Mat Diafos Sweeney) and soundcape; created using instruments such as a bowed banjo, a harp, singers, a clarinet, a glock and household kitchen ware, offered up a wondrous element to the production. The only issue with this aspect of the production was that due to the nature of the space, there were crucial moments during the show when the audience lost the story – unable to hear the actors above the music. The actors tried...but no love. Given the space has a fair amount of corrugated iron in its structure, this is something to take into consideration. The audience is told to rug up for the performance, and the possum that body slammed the roof during the show truly put us in the piece (given that the story is set in a ramshackle little hut). Sound level issues being highlighted though, it’s an easy fix.
The other minor clunkiness in the piece relates to the text. While the overall arc of the story is clear and effective, there’s something about the writing that fails to work in harmony with the other elements of the production. There’s a wish to see it all soar, but it slightly fails to deliver.
The set design by Sebastian Peters and Ellen Strasser is stellar. Plain and simple. There were moments during the production when to look at a vignette with actors, set and lighting all playing their respective parts, was to look at a true piece of art. It was thoroughly impressive.
Undine is well worth the journey to the secret location in which it is performed. Greeted by a smiling, lantern wielding company member on the street, you half expect to hear the low foghorn of a ship far off in the distance. This ship is sailing soon though, so jump on board quickly.
Undine runs until the 30th of July at a secret location in Brunswick. Venue details are supplied after booking.
Four Larks Theatre presents
by Mat Diafos Sweeney and Jesse Rasmussen
Directed by Mat Diafos Sweeney and Jesse Rasmussen
Movement Direction by Sebastian Peters-Lazaro
Venue: Details supplied after booking
Dates: 19 – 30 July 2011
Times: Tues – Sun 8pm
Tickets: $25 Full, $20 concession