Saturday 21 February 2015

Psychopomp & Seething review

Barking Spider Visual Theatre has consistently created shows and performances that have a lingering effect on their audiences. Collaborating with MUST (Monash Uni Student Theatre), their newest production Psychopomp & Seething delivers on this reputation yet again. In two short pieces, they transport the audience to two very different dream-like worlds that are paradoxically calming yet unsettling.

The audience seating area has been specifically designed for this show and only seats twenty people in its very intimate structure. As we take our seats, the doors close in on the stage, boxing us in, and we begin to move. Yes, the seating bank moves. With nothing but a blue spotlight sporadically shining above us, I get images of the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the hurricane from The Wizard of Oz, which is fitting as this is the type of intriguing experience I’ve come to expect from Barking Spider.

Once we “arrive” at our “destination”, the doors open to Seething. The stage is bare except for a woman (Vanessa O’Neil) standing in a lit up sound booth. She begins reading a poem revolving around sex, the body and image. As she begins, a person (Kate Brennan) appears from the darkness and brings her words to life through dance and movements. Brennan is like a marionette to O’Neil’s words and there is a strong sense that the two need to co-exist in order to be here. The words spoken have a lingering effect on my mind and I find myself lost and overcome by the visual and aural beauty on stage.

Upon its conclusion, the doors are shut and we are transported to Psychopomp, which has a very different feel to Seething. This is a two-by-two square box stage, with each square occupied by a performer (James Cerche, Nicola Grear, Aislinn Murray and Lindsay Templeton). In a whimsical setting reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the four individuals recount their own experiences with death where, as in the previous piece, they are bound together yet separated from each other.

The stunning set designs, detailed costuming and makeup, and strong performances in particular by Murray and Templeton, make Psychopomp highly memorable. However, I feel more clarity was needed with the narrative. It took quite some time to understand who these characters were and what their story was. After the audience being so visually overwhelmed, with a 30-minute show there is a need to be more direct and clear with the story.

While walking home after the show, and even as I write this review, there is still much of Psychopomp & Seething that remains in my thoughts. The fact that this is not the type of theatre that leaves you the next day makes it a must-see experience. Barking Spider constantly aim to produce original and unique theatre for its audiences, with no performance experience the same. It is risky but so far, they are hitting all the right spots.

Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton
Season: Until 1 March | Wed-Sat 6.30pm & 8pm, Sun 4pm & 5.30pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
La Mama Theatre
 or 9347 6948

*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 21 February.

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