Black Swan State Theatre Company.
Saturday, October 29 - November 13 at 7:30pm,
State Theatre Centre of WA.
Photo right by Gary Marsh
Exquisite. Mesmerizing. Heartbreaking. Visually stunning.
I'm calling it. This is the best piece of theatre I have ever seen. Hands down, without a shadow of a doubt the best hour and 45 minutes I have ever spent in a theatre.
Written by the same Australian master of words as Lantana and Speaking in Tongues, Andrew Bovell hold the audience captivated with his Brechtian use breaking the fourth wall, allowing the actor to address the audience directly. His use of repetition helps to link the different characters to their descendants and his poetic, lyrical dialogue is insightful.
Directed by a favourite of mine, Director Adam Mitchell is an artist and the stage is his canvas. His hand picked cast each owned their roles like a second skin.
I had the pleasure of sitting in on some scene work in the rehearsal room. Adam directs in a very 'hands on' manner. He works the stage with his actors. Walking in their shoes, guiding them like a favoured child you can see that he was 'a little in love' with every one of his actors. He even said as much on opening night to his captivated audience that crushed the foyer after the performance. They would try a scene their way, try a scene his way. Everyone had a voice in that room, even the students I had taken in to view the rehearsal were given the chance to have their say at the end.
Adam's direction is flawless. Helped in part by the stunning movement direction of Claudia Alessi, the scenes transitioned seamlessly from one to the next. There were no 'blackouts' in the lighting for you to collect your thoughts between scenes, so that you are digesting this non linear story on the run, learning alongside these truthful characters how the fate of their past will influence their future.
Bryan Woltjen's set and costumes were visionary. Whilst addressing the vast locations from 1950s London to 1980's Ulurru, a dreary rain soaked street to the vast landscape of the Coorong. The minimalistic props allowed what props were used to become symbols of the things that stay the same, passed down through the generations like an old hat. The use of black stage drapes to create windows and doors at the front of the stage, that tracked left and right, up and down, helped to manipulate what the audience can see at any given time. The stairway to heaven, massive, mammoth, striking and beautiful is at one point Ulurru, and another, a symbol of the ever stretching highways the go on endlessly connecting the Australian cities across the great divide.
Mia Holten's AV feast was stunning as ever. Subtle sometimes so you don't even realise she is enhancing Ben Collin's artful, self composed sound scape, blending beautifully with Trent Suidgeest's clever and also subtle lighting design. All masterfully controlled by the talented and oh so calm Anna Dymiter Hawke, Black Swans Stage Manager.
Of course, without the cast, the telling of this poetic story would not have been possible. A stellar cast of some of WA's best actors.
Steve Turner as Henry Law was such a likable character that it hurts that little bit more when you realise what his secret is. I honestly can't imagine anyone playing this role better than he did. Superb.
Alison van Reeken shone as Elizabeth Law. She had several costume changes as her character aided in setting the various time shifts. Bryan's colourful dresses had the collar rising on each of Elizabeth's garments as she moved through time, choking her until she is gasping before the climax in her scenes with Henry Law, her husband. Equally, as her older self, Julia Moody was scarily real (my friend commented several times to me "That's my mother!") and had a such a presence onstage, that even when sitting silently, saying nothing for several scenes, you can't help but watch years of withheld grief play out on her face. Subtext extraordinaire.
Older Gabrielle York (Vivienne Garret) and Joe Ryan (Igor Sass) broke my heart in every one of their scenes. Such beautiful, honest endearing interpretations of their characters that my throat has constricted just remembering those scenes.
The stunning Gabrielle York (Fiona Pepper) and Gabriel Law (Scott Sheridan) were lovely as the young lovers. They had just enough whimsy and lightness to balance the pain inside them both.
This play has everything. As several people have already said to me, it's what good theatre looks like. Acting, direction, set, costumes, lighting, sound, stage management, stage mechanist's, lighting and sound operators; they have and are still working together to produce a quality of theatre that I have never before seen and I will never forget!
If you live in Perth, GO AND SEE IT!