We think we’re safe in “the west” from the atrocities that happen elsewhere; the war, the poverty, the displacement. To deal with the Devil seems just as unlikely, until it happens.
How to Hold Your Breath, presented by Loud Mouth Theatre Company at the Moonah Arts Centre addresses these fantastical ideas. The staging is simple, leaving room for the performances and the script to create the greatest impact.
The lion’s share of performance was left in the very capable hands of Simone Dobber, who played the protagonist Dana. Dobber was on stage for the duration and was magnetic, transitioning beautifully from one scene to the next. Robert Maxwell was a secure choice to play Jarron, (the Demon) due to his commanding physique and presence.
Elka Bezemer played Dana’s sister, Jasmine. The relationship between the two has a very interesting arc, in that the power balance completely inverts, and both actors treated this journey with subtlety and clarity.
I did a bit of reading about the playwright, Zinnie Harris’s intention after seeing How to Hold Your Breath, and it appears that she wanted to leave it open for audiences to read it both ways. I think the ambiguity creates interest. Is Jarron really a demon or is he just a guy who works for the UN? Is he a figment of Dana’s imagination or is he right there with her in the bath?
After some time it becomes evident that The Librarian at least, (played expertly by Ivano Del Pio), must be a symbolic character. Later, his interaction with Jarron hints that we are dwelling in the realm of the surreal.
Director Julie Waddington says she was looking for a script with great roles for women and a contemporary message. It’s a worthy mission and I feel like she hit the nail on the head with How to Hold Your Breath.
I loved Waddington’s choice not to fuss about accents. Despite the European setting, each of the actors used their own, and we wound up with a tapestry of mostly Australian sounds that didn’t detract from the impact of the story in the same way that a poorly executed attempt at European dialects would have.
Dispensing with the traditional “blacks” for the stage crew, the scene changes were efficiently executed by a team in grey trousers and white shirts. In an impressive feat of body maximisation, the set change team filled out the minor roles.
The play, in two acts, flows well and maintains engagement. Although, it opens with a poetic, symbolic monologue, plonking the actor front and centre under dramatic lighting, which lets the audience know that they are indeed at the theatre. At this point, I wondered if we were in for something a little more “artistic” than I was hoping. Fortunately, as the play unfolded, the writing and delivery became more natural and I settled in to invest in the characters.
There are some very intense interactions, and moments of vulnerability that could transport you and hit you right in the feels if you’re prepared to emotionally invest.
The setting is Europe and the real tensions, financial collapses and border unrest that have occurred over the last five years are pressed into the context of the characters’ lives. However, the themes are particularly relevant to Australia today as we debate the refugee crisis and in particular, “boat people”. The writer throws up clinical phrases made familiar to us by politicians and the media, but then shows us the humanity behind the politics.
At only a few years old, one of the most interesting aspects (there are many) of LMTC is that they have a “Pay what you want” Opening Night. The aim of this is to make their shows accessible and affordable, but also to create a discussion about what art is worth. Another clever system is called “The Dark Nights”. These refer to the three days in the middle of the season where the actors and crew take a well-earned break, but the space is used for new artists, cross-discipline works, launches or experimental pieces.
The Loud Mouth Theatre Co. season program is littered with descriptions of exciting initiatives. The company has a very cool, contemporary, inclusive vibe and I’m looking forward to attending the rest of their 2016 season.
Loud Mouth Theatre Company presents
How To Hold Your Breath
by Zinnie Harris
Director Julie Waddington
Venue: Moonah Arts Centre | 23-27 Albert Road, Moonah TAS
Dates: 29 April – 7 May 2016