When you move into a house, you can’t help but be filled with the excitement of new beginnings as you begin to unpack boxes and find new places for your belongings, but what about the people who lived there before us? Not only the ones that have just left, but the ones that lived there ten years ago and twenty years ago? What memories have they left behind? Presented by Dislocate, If These Walls Could Talk…? shows the stories of these past inhabitants over six decades, through circus, performance and imagination.
The four performers – Geoff Dunstan, Kate Fryer, DJ Garner and Luke Taylor – have the difficult task of not only performing circus acts that will entertain the audience but also convincingly remaining in character and showing their emotional journey in short periods of time. The first story, set in the 60s, show a loving elderly couple (Fryer and Dunstan) who decide together to take their own lives. As they reminisce over their younger years together, the acrobatics they perform are seen as visual representation of the emotions they are feeling. The closing moment is beautifully executed as the stage fades to black on the couple for one last time. And so the stories continue, showing the various inhabitants’ dealings with life, death and moving on.
The last story evokes a powerful mixture of emotions as we see a man (Dunstan) attempting various methods of suicide only to have them thwarted by some otherworldly force. When he attempts to jump out the window, the window slams shut on his face. When he attempts to hang himself by the door, the door gives way and releases the rope. Despite the clear theme of suicide, there is a delicate and thoughtful blend of humour throughout this piece, and the show as a whole. The finale is wonderfully wrought with the past residents spinning around the man on a trapeze as photographs fall from the ceiling of all the people who have lived there before.
The set changeover between the decades is comically done and highly creative, as the ensemble put their clowning skills to excellent use. The set, composition and costumes by Michael Baxter, Chris Lewis and Harriet Oxley respectively are perfectly themed to the eras. I particularly loved the 70s disco tunes of a gay relationship and the 80s pink jumpsuit donned by Fryer. Eduard Ingles’ lighting design is also utilised effectively, most memorably in the 80s domestic violence afterlife sequence.
Good circus is obvious when the tricks are good, the audience is interested and there are a few gasps, but great circus is when there is a story we can follow and we become emotionally invested in the characters we see. If These Walls Could Talk…? goes beyond even that, and creates a poignant reminder that while we should embrace life and all there is to it, we should not forget the ones that have come before us.
If These Walls Could Talk…? was performed at Gasworks Arts Park on 20-21 June 2016.
*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 24 May 2016.