Sunday 20 August 2023

Cygnets review

Helen of Troy might be a familiar figure to people when it comes to Greek mythology but she is generally recognised as the cause of the Trojan War and little beyond that. Her sister, Clytemenstra is even lesser known, briefly acknowledged in her role of murdering her husband after he sacrificed their daughter to the Gods to aid in his quest for power. Cygnets brings these two sisters together to reclaim their voice and story as they work through the trauma and resentment they experienced at the hands of those around them.

The performances by Rebekah Carton and Delta Brooks are nothing short of magnificent. Brooks as Helen is put through the ringer with the distress and anguish she must convey, as well as reacting to the aggression she receives from her sister. Things get very messy and physically demanding but the commitment she keeps to each scene, as does Carton, is testament to the hard work the two have put in with director Harry Haynes and dramaturg Alanah Guiry in creating Cygnets. Carton finds an inspired balance of being vicious yet comedic, and fierce yet soft, as the woman who will mourn the loss of her daughter and then pay the price for exacting her revenge.

Set and costume designer Juliette Whitney has constructed an impressive set that draws you into the severely rousing moments that play out. Blood-red PVC strips confine us in the small makeshift arena that is used to great effect by Haynes where the drama is presented in a restrained yet impassioned pace. A group of four performers dressed in various red coloured outfits act as a sort of Greek Chorus entering the space for set changes and carrying in props. Their movements and interactions add to the intensity and the inevitable end for the two sisters.

TV screens on either side of the stage provide background (sometimes with just a single word) to the upcoming scene, and when not in use they display the matching red with the rest of the design. At times, an iPhone records what is occurring and it is projected on the screens. By transporting the history of these women into a somewhat contemporary environment the fabric of time begins to disappear and gives a further sense of urgency and despair with events like this still happening in this day and age.

They may have been dealt a terrible hand and unable to be together - or even communicate - during the most volatile periods of their lives, but Cygnets reunites the sisters and explores what was and what could have been between them. There are some tragically sad scenes filled with horror or comedy, and sometimes both. It's an approach that could easily come unstuck, but under the watchful eye of Haynes, the show doesn't miss a beat and delivers each chapter with sensitivity and confidence.

There is a lot happening in Cygnets, and a great deal to digest, but the team have done so in a way that you never feel overwhelmed, with plenty of time to take everything in, process it and understand it. It's an intelligent production that shines a spotlight on women, family and motherhood by two women whose stories are rarely mentioned or made known.

Click here to read our interview with Rebekah Carton and Delta Brooks.

Show Details

Venue: Theatre Works Explosives Factory, 67 Inkerman St, St. Kilda

Season: until 26 August | Tues - Sat 7:30pm
Duration: 60 minutes

Tickets: $48.24 Full | $37.74 Concession
Bookings: Theatre Works

Image Credit: Matto Lucas

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