Sunday 30 April 2017

This Is Eden review

While waiting in the foyer for This Is Eden to begin, a young woman in a bonnet and dress appears. Her name is Jane (Emily Goddard), a Female Convict Heritage Tour Guide, who provides us with a brief but entertaining overview on the history of female convicts. Jane is wide-eyed and enthusiastically explains how most women convicts who were sent to the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart were non-violent criminals, and we all laugh as she fumbles with putting on a spiked iron collar that women convicts often wore; it's easier to discount the tales of atrocity experienced this way.

Devised by Goddard and Susie Dee, This Is Eden is more than just a story about Australia's convict history. It is also about the treatment of Indigenous people throughout time and our treatment of asylum seekers today. Through the show, it is clear we have yet to learn from our mistakes and like Jane, we seem to be more upset over failed relationships than we do by sending people to certain death.

Once ushered to our seats, Jane hopes we enjoy the show and as she leaves, we are enveloped by silence and darkness. Moments later, Goddard reappears on stage, unrecognisable this time as convict Mary Ford. Her wild hair and near deranged demeanour is unsettling yet captivating as she shares the stories of her captors.

Goddard's portrayals of Jane and Mary are the perfect balance of comedy and savagery and through the use of the French clowning technique of Bouffon, she pokes fun at and ridicules those in power and control and presents a defiant Mary who refuses to be a victim. Dee's masterful direction vividly brings Goddard's words to life and together they create an astounding performance that manifests Mary's anger and rage.

Romanie Harper's impressive prison cell set design highlights the squalor and despair that was experienced with the dripping water hinting at the torture that was endured. Gina Gascoigne's brilliant lighting design makes it clear just how alone and cut off Mary is from the rest of the world and moments of unease are further emphasised with shadows cast on Goddard's face and body. This is all supported by the haunting sound design by Ian Moorhead where at times it feels as if the wind and rain effects speak the voices of the dead.

This Is Eden is a look at Australia's past, present and future and how easily history can - and does - repeat itself. We think of the horrible conditions that Mary had to endure yet we allow it to happen with asylum seekers at Manus Island. We are all complicit and we are all responsible. While this is a remarkable piece of theatre that warrants attendance, it should also be seen as a reminder that we can't continue to sit back and drink our tea.

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Until 7 May | Thu- Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $35 Full | $30 Conc 
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs

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