Last Saturday I was lucky enough to catch the final show of When They Could Not Breath as a part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival 2012. The 'non-theatre' location for this work was in a small house in Ashgrove.
When They Could Not Breathe explores the intensity of emotions that swirl around the psyche during a heart break. Devised by Medley Theatre Company the show uses live theatre, live music and film. Its abstract content balanced with the familiarity of the carefully cultivated domestic journey through the house was like experiencing When Harry Met Sally played out during The Texas Chainsaw Massacre while high.
It was a very intimate experience, and one that began right at the door. We were offered a cup of tea as we picked up our tickets on the driveway, blankets were available for the audience and the music and fairy lights were filling the yard with a bit of magic. Yeah, I'm absolutely a sucker for a warm cuppa on a cold night.
We were seated facing the front of the house surrounded by the shrubbery and shadows of the front yard. The show opened with a monologue read by one of the musicians, setting the serious tone of the work. The curtains were then opened and the audience could peer into the house beginning our voyeuristic journey. We could see two female silhouettes sitting in the darkness and a song began to play – one that tugged the heartstrings, full of sorrow and just wonderfully performed by performer Amy Sillar. The second performer in the room, Terri Kerr, launched into a poetic and guilt ridden monologue about lost loves, as she flung herself across the bedroom.
The journey then continued to the dining room, where the two performers engaged in a power struggle over a candle. The shadows dancing along the reflections of the windows was visually stunning, but the movement seemed to go on a little too long, and paired with the fact that I couldn't see one side of the room, I began to feel a little impatient to move on to the next section.
From there we moved to the kitchen where we were met by the sensual and bubbly personality of Nutella Lawson (Amy Sillar), who took the audience through her recipe for a smoothie to cure heart ache, featuring ingredients like chocolate, cucumber with the plastic still on, a lot of vodka, and Metamucil, just 'cause it's good for you. Terri Kerr's character sat there as a silent sidekick to Nutella, wallowing in her own misery and chomping on chocolate. There was great potential in this pairing and I wished I could have seen more of the two performing together in this context. A waitress Emma Jopenpolvi (who also facilitated the development of the piece) suddenly appeared in the driveway in a corset, fish nets and heels to offer us a shot of Nutella's healing drinks.
From there we moved to a corner under the carport where we watched an experimental abstract film by Tim Thomas. The film was violent, abrupt and unsettling. The energy of the show suddenly shifted and being outside peering into the house wasn't as fun as it was a moment before – I suddenly felt exposed and disturbed.
We were then taken to a dark section beside the house where Terri Kerr took on a demonic type of heart broken creature, twisted and angry, spitting at the audience, shaking from emotional seizures. I wasn't sure what to expect from this point forward, but we were definitely in the darkness of the heart by this point.
Finally we made our way down to the back yard where the two actresses became involved in the domestic ritual of hanging things on the washing line; the power struggle between the two as portrayed up until this point now seemed to be completely subverted. Sillar collapsed on the grass, playing the guitar, once again singing of sorrow; Kerr stumbled into the house, locked the door and I was left with the impression that the persona would do the same thing over for the rest of eternity, never being able to break out of her emotional cycle of hell.
The shining feature of the work was the live music. Amy Sillar's songs, each attuned to the different sections, were beautifully performed and shared simply with the audience. James Visentin and Edward Buckridge, who accompanied Sillar, set a fragile mood underpinned with violence and horror (not an easy thing to capture!). If Medley Theatre Company felt like making a few more bucks they could release the When They Could Not Breathe soundtrack, and I guarantee, sales would fund their next work – and I'd be first in line.
There truly were some powerful ideas in the work and director Alana Hawkins obviously has a real talent for stringing ideas together and bringing out the 'left of centre' performances from her cast – but it did feel like the piece was still in the early stages of development. At some moments the script felt like it was overstating the experiences and quite simply told us too much. Whereas during the film the audience were granted the opportunity to fill in the blanks of narrative or character, the script during the live performance didn't give us enough credit in being able to understand what was going on. More rehearsals, more development and using feedback from audiences who experienced the show during the festival, will hopefully push the group to continue working this piece so that it's a little more polished, and the impression that they want an audience to leave with can be slightly more powerful and clear.
Look out for Medley Theatre Company in the coming years – they are definitely a group to watch.
Medley Theatre Company presents
WHEN THE COULD NOT BREATHE
Director Alana Hawkins
Venue: 20 High Street, Ashgrove, Brisbane
Dates/Times: Tue 15 - Sat 19 May 2012, 7pm
Tickets: $10 - $15
Part of the 2012 Anywhere Theatre Festival