20 June 2011

Review: The Bearskinner

The Bearskinner
Theatre Works presents the The Duck House production
16 June 2011
Theatre Works (be early because the current tram and road work is a bitch)
to 3 July

Starting with a picture book version of The Brothers Grimm tale The Bearskinner, Perth ensembles The Duck House and The Wet Weather Ensemble re-created the story by pretending they were "other, funnier and magical things".  The result is a strikingly original, mesmerisingly beautiful and gorgeously dark and funny interpretation of this lesser-known tale.

Three muses live in a forest of Christmas pines and op shop delights.  Here an ex-soldier makes a deal with the devil (camply clad in a patterned cord jacket and sparkly party-hat horns) to have endless wealth if he skins a bear and promises to wear the fur, not wash and not fall in love for seven years. It might have been easy, but the devil likes to win so much that he'll lead his prey to love.

An advantage of living in relatively small and isolated city, is that Perth artists don't have the same freedom to compare their work and this often results in highly original processes and a very different way of looking at performance and art. This is, after all,  the city that produced artists as unique (and now world famous) as Shaun Tan, Tim Minchin and Tim Winton. I spent time in Perth (Arts Management at WAPPA) many years ago and was regularly struck by the original and unrestricted approach of its independent arts scene.

The Duck House and associates (Gita Bezard, Alissa Claessens, St John Cowcher, Fran Middleton, Ian Sinclair, Marc Osborne, Sarah McKellar and Karen Cook) are mostly young graduates from Edith Cowan University's Contemporary Performance course.  Director and producer Kathryn Osborne describes their process as "backing our intuition, striking out amidst a fog of uncertainty, and knowing that the talent in the room will lead us home with a show in our own hands."

The Bearskinner is a work that didn't say no and freely experimented with not making sense, but it makes complete sense and would never have got to this absurd clarity without such a free process. They are influenced by Sheffield-based group Forced Entertainment (one of my favourites), but their work is less forced and more loving. If this is their early work,  I hope they stay together for 25 years like Forced Entertainment.

And let's hope that they cross the Nullarbor again to remind us to work through that fog of creative uncertainty.

PS: Proof read your program notes: The Brother's Grimm is the grimm that belongs to the brothers.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com


  1. Thearteworks (be early because the current tram and road work is a bitch)

    PS: Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.

  2. Proving that you can NEVER proof your own work.

  3. Thanks for coming along Anne Marie. I'm glad you enjoyed the show!

    By the way, its Theatre Works, not Theatreworks. Name changed in 2009 with the new re-branding. :)