Monday 23 October 2023

A Dodgeball Named Desire review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

You've got to hand it to Bloomshed. They have proven themselves time and time again to be one of the most innovative, bold, daring and creative theatre makers around. Too much? Absolutely not, and with their new show A Dodgeball Named Desire they continue to reign supreme. Using Tennessee William' near 80 year-old play A Streetcar Named Desire, Bloomshed explore the competitive nature between the performing arts and the sporting industries, and if there's any chance of these two co-existing. All set in a dodgeball arena. Flores para los muertos? Indeed.

On one side of the court we have our dainty and frail Blanches dressed in old, withered white gowns. On the other, we have the Stanleys, who happen to be extremely fit and very much ready for a fight. While Streetcar is a sharp critique of how society and its attitudes restricted women's lives, A Dodgeball Named Desire uses the dodgeball scenario as a way to highlight how government and institutions are restricting and suffocating the performing arts and not giving them their due credit.

During James Jackon's live sport commentary, we are given information comparing the two industries and making it clear how little support the arts receives. Post-match interviews with the Stanleys reiterate how revered athletes are in Australia while the Blanches are left to depend on the kindness of strangers (the audience) in this uphill battle. The half-time entertainment is an incredible interpretative dance piece by the ensemble, with the most perfect song choice you can imagine. We are also told that they, of course, are getting paid in exposure.

Elizabeth Brennan, Laura Aldous and Anna Louey are spectacular with their portrayals of Blanche. They display the resilience Blanche has to keep pushing through while copping a battering each day (each round). Their ability to play dodgeball and run around in large gowns, and act with feeling and sincerity is beyond commendable. Sam Nix as the leader of the Stanleys is easily despised with his aggression and "locker room talk" banter where a dodgeball to the head would be readily welcomed. Jackson as our commentator, along with some other small roles, provides supportive comic relief and it's a welcome return to have Tom Molyneux back on the Bloomshed stage as Tennessee Williams.

Bloomshed and dramaturg Justin Gardam have a strong understanding of the text and confidently insert dialogue and scenes from it into the show, that offers weight to what they are trying to say. It's not adding in lines because they are memorable or recognisable, they are there because they work in service to the story they are telling.

Samantha Hastings' set design is sparse but very effective. A glittery bathtub on one side instantly brings to mind the numerous baths Blanche takes to calm her nerves. On the other side of the arena is a sports bench for the Stanleys to grunt and flex on. In the middle of the court, sitting on a tall umpire’s chair is a pregnant Tennessee Williams who takes on the role of Stella, attempting to be the impartial referee of the game.

Bloomshed's A Dodgeball Named Desire has some powerful words to say about the current state of the performing arts industry, and when actions seemingly speak louder than words, they ensure that its devastating finale serves more than just a forceful dodgeball to the gut.

Click here for our interview with Anna Louey.

Show Details

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: until 29 October | Tues - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5:00pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Concession
Bookings: fortyfivedowstairs

Image Credit: Bryce James Haggett

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