Photo – Lisa Tomasettii
Never Did Me Any Harm by Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company focuses on the way modern parenting has developed. It is about parents who mollycoddle their darlings by putting a toy in each layer of pass the parcel. It contrasts helicopter parents and parents who just want their kids to climb trees independently. Many of the topics have been covered in articles and blogs so the content wasn’t revolutionary.
Kate Champion focused on specific themes and conversations that were found in real-life interviews on the emotive world of raising children. Although some of the issues raised were poignant and portrayed in a creative fashion, the constant heaviness in modern parenting predominated as the main theme.
The opening scene is extraordinary: a pre-recorded dialogue between two parents’ echoes through the theatre as a couple on stage have the conversation with their bodies. They move in the universal language of dance and their ability to show subtleties and emotions that are often left out of a conversation is remarkable. Kristina Chan is captivating and her body becomes a conduit for the soul of the speaker. You could watch her for hours and never tire of her exceptional ability to dance.
Although it worked for the opening of the show the pre-recorded dialogue disconnected the audience from the performance. Even though the actors started to talk themselves there was still the sense that they spoke someone else’s story and that made it hard to empathise. The teenager dealing with sexuality and her relationship with her parents; the father sharing his son's diagnosis and the issues around labelling children and not wanting children at all in this family orientated world, are strong issues but somehow they didn’t hit home. You could never shake the feeling that the dancers where just puppets which were doing an amazing job of showing you the emotions of a story that was not their own.
The performers brought charm, desperation, humour and despair to the stage as they moved from one character to the next. They were masters in movement and gifted in their acting skills however there was something in the space and set up the stopped them from reaching the audience completely.
The magnum opus for this production is the set and lighting design by Geoff Cobham. Since the 1990’s houses with backyards stopped being built and maybe that is when we started to hover over our children’s every move and fear them falling out of trees. Maybe this is why Cobham chose to design the stage as a backyard, with its high wooden fence, leaf strewn lawn and a big old tree. The Australian dream of having a house with a backyard and the perfect family is the ideal setting for this production.
The lighting often plunges the stage into darkness and then uses spotlights and patterns to engage with the dancers. Words trickle down a tree trunk, sail over bodies and collect in a pool at the feet of the performers. The same words are projected on to a dancer creating a dress made of words in lights. There is a grid that has the feeling of net though you are never sure if it is meant to be a net that catches you or one that entangles. The use of lighting is imaginative and interlaces with the performance on every level.
Never Did Me Any Harm opens strongly but as it progresses it loses momentum. There were moments when the sound and lighting left you feeling tense and teetering on the edge of some awful reveal, some journey into the dark abyss that can be present in the world of families yet it never went there. It falls short emotionally, however, there are moments of excellence in this production and if you can connect with the actors as well as the stories behind them it should not be missed.
Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company present
NEVER DID ME ANY HARM
Director Kate Champion
Venue: Glen Street Theatre | corner Glen Street and Blackbutts Road, Belrose
Dates: 17 – 20 August 2016
Tickets: $47 – $64
Bookings: www.glenstreet.com.au | 9975 1455