04 June 2013

Review: Menagerie and Bodily Education

NEON: Festival of Independent Theatre
Daniel Schlusser Ensemble
17 May 2013

On the bodily education of young girls
Fraught Outfit
31 May 2013

The Lawler

The MTC's NEON Festival of Independent Theatre is letting five of Melbourne's best independent companies create and present a new work without the stress of finding a venue and an audeince. It's exciting knowing that these amazing and very-loved companies will be seen by a broader audience, but that doesn't mean they are going to be loved by new eyes.

The season opened with the Daniel Schlusser Ensemble's Menagerie.

They tried to get the rights to Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menangerie, but thankfully they weren't granted because what they created was far more fascinating.

I thought Menagerie was beautiful. The cast were faultless and I was so engulfed in the experience that it left me a bit wordless. So, please read what Chris Boyd said in The Australian.

Others didn't love it, like Cameron Woodhead. I've read whinges along the lines of "how could he have misread it?", but all reviewers can do it read what they see on the stage and his review makes it very clear that he didn't see a work about love.

I was less worried about interpretation, which could be because I like and admire, rather than love Tennessee's writing (and my feminist reading of him never left me feeling comfortable or seeing the love), but this work did inspire me to re-read The Glass Menangerie. 

However, Schlusser's work isn't so much about interpreting text. He creates worlds for characters to live in and it's up to the audience to decide who and what they watch. In this case, it's still William's New Orleans, but in a trailer park after Cyclone Katrina, where there's a plastic paddling pool, a hot tin roof to play on and people from William's life and work.

It's nothing like a Williams play, but it's the essence of Williams and if it doesn't bring you closer to his work, it sure brings you closer to something about the man who wrote some of the more important theatrical works of the twentieth century.

The next NEON work (finishing this week) is Fraught Outfit's On the bodily education of young girls. 

It's inspired by a 1903 novella by Frank Wedekind and director Adena Jacobs has worked with ten young women (13 to 16) from St Martin's Youth theatre.

It's another remarkably beautiful work to watch with a very different, but utterly delightful cast.  But, unlike Menagerie, I didn't leave inspired to read the text. In fact, my reading of the summary of the text left me re-interpreting what I saw on the stage.

Sitting in the theatre, I gave up looking for story and meaning and was happy to watch the young women stretch and dance and play. Does that sound pervy? It didn't feel so watching it, but reading that it was about a group of young girls in a boarding institution being groomed for an unknown future made me feel awkward.

I initially saw a gorgeous and heartfelt reflection on ageing and the difference in seeing teenagers as women or girls – and especially how teenagers see themselves as one or the other. But as a place that was training them up for something "unknown", I saw it as a reflection on the performance world these young women want to work in.

Already they have been cast based on how they are going to look on the stage and the world of performance can be wonderful, but often cruel and judgemental. Is this their bodily education? Instead of watching them as young women being themselves, I saw the process that created the work and any onstage awkwardness as misunderstanding.

I wish I hadn't read the program and could only see it as something that was beautiful.

And we still have Hayloft, The Rabble and Sisters Grimm to come!

(And I am currently reading The Story of O in preparation for The Rabble's work. At this stage, all I can say is Oh...)

Menagerie photo by Sarah Walker.

Bodily Education photo by Lachlan Woods.