Wednesday, May 18, 2022

JANE EYRE

 


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. 

Adapted for the stage by Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij. Directed by Michael Futcher. Designed by Josh Macintosh. Original music and songs composed by Sarah McLeod.  Cast: Helen Howard. Nelle Lee, Sarah McLeod. Julian Garner. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. May 17-21 2022. Bookings: www.canberratheatre.org.au; 62435711

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Shake ‘n Stir Theatre Company’s original adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s gothic tale, Jane Eyre is a theatrical powerhouse. Shake n Stir are fiercely faithful to the spirit of Bronte’s work. Coming as it does at the end of the gothic literary era, Jane Eyre’s search for independence and love is marked by the dark and brooding elements of the gothic era. In a production so gripping that an audience is utterly transfixed, Jane Eyre ( beautifully played by Nelle Lee) suffers the childhood cruelty of  her bitter Aunt Reid (Helen Howard) before being sent to a charity school for eight years. At Thornfield Hall, Jane discovers a love for her mysterious employer Mr Rochester, played with commanding presence and conviction by Julian Garner, only to discover the existence of his mad and entrapped wife.

A daunting air of mystery and dread hangs over Josh Macintosh’s dimly lit set design for Shake n Stir’s riveting production of Jane Eyre. Sarah McLeod’s mood evoking composition and original songs rent the air with fierce foreboding.  The composer/singer astounds with a voice that can chill the spine or thaw the coldest heart. Director Futcher’s clear sighted vision has combined the element in perfect accord with a superb quartet of actors and innovative creatives. The result is a production that stirs and shakes the mind and soul as we are drawn irrevovably into Charlotte Bronte’s tale of a young girl in search of freedom, love and independence.  Bronte’s saga of suffering and longing and eventual happiness and independent freedom is told with stunning clarity by  four actors who deftly take on the many characters of Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij’s faithful and forceful adaptation. Lee and Skubij skilfully interweave the elements of cruelty and suffering at the aunt’s residence, the confinement and deprived liberty of the charity school and the horrific madness of the imprisoned Bertha Mason, played to macabre effect by Sarah Macleod, who also doubles at times as a dancing music box doll interpretation of Rochester’s young ward Adele.   Director Michael Futcher adroitly manoeuvres the action to provide a clear narrative while also orchestrating the tension and the suspense, assisted by McLeod’s haunting melodies and Macintosh’s lighting and astounding use of pyrotechnics. It is the production’s gripping fusion of the many aspects of production that makes this an unforgettable and thought-provoking performance.

Nelle Lee as Jane Eyre

Central to the success of Shake  ‘n Stir;s Jane Eyre is the quality and versatilityof Futcher’s four actors. While Garner, Howard and McLeod switch characters with convincing agility, Lee remains in the eponymous role, swept along by fate and fortune. Central to the success of the production is the relationship between Jane Eyre and her employer Mr. Rochester. Lee and Garner chart the challenging journey from servant and master to romantic lovers, thwarted by a dark secret and reunited by the power of devotion with performances that charm amd move to tears. Howard and McLeod support the core story with an admirable display of believable versatility. In casting four excellent performers to play the many roles, Futcher has also created a powerfully effective ensemble  to bring Bronte’s characters to life.

A happy ending gives cause for reflection in Shake ‘n Stir’s production. Their streamlined account of the story of a young girl innately independent and battling the forces of a society constrained by convention, intolerant morality and abusive faith reveals a writer living in the isolated world of the Yorkshire moors  propounding a feminist vision well ahead of her time and pleading for a compassionate and just society. It is a plea echoed in a true and impactful depiction of Bronte’s moral saga. Shake ‘n Stir Theatre Company’s inspired and inspiring production sets the imagination on fire in a theatrical triumph that will linger long after the audience leave the theatre.

 

 

 

 

 

Co-Adaptors | Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij
Director | Michael Futcher
Designer | Josh McIntosh
Composer | Sarah McLeod

 

Featuring | Helen Howard, Nelle Lee, Anthony Standish and Sarah McLeod

 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

BECOMING BEATRIX


Chloe Lankshear, soprano

Francis Greep, piano

The Song Company

Wesley Music Centre, Forrest 14 May

 

Reviewed by Len Power

 

Beatrix Potter was the author of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and 22 other stories which are still popular with children over a hundred years later.  She was also an artist, conservationist and researcher and left over 4000 acres of land to the National Trust in Britain.  Her life story is a fascinating one and her achievements as a woman at the start of the 20th century were considerable.

Soprano, Chloe Lankshear, and pianist, Francis Greep, have fashioned Potter’s story into an entertainment of songs linked by recorded excerpts of “Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman: by Judy Taylor as read by Patricia Routledge.  The chosen songs commented on particular times in Potter’s life.

The songs were by a wide range of composers including Sally Whitwell, Claude Debussy, Robert Schumann, Ross Edwards, Aaron Copland and others.

Dressed in period costume, Lankshear presented the songs with a few well-chosen props to set the scene.  As the recorded excerpts about Potter’s life played between the songs, she stayed in character, creating an impressive period atmosphere for the whole concert.

Francis Greep and Chloe Lankshear

The program began with two songs by Sally Whitwell to poems by Christina Rossetti.  Both “Skylark” and “Linnet” set the scene for Beatrix Potter’s love of nature. Chloe Lankshear’s beautiful, clear singing of these joyous songs was delightful.

This happy mood continued with three more atmospheric songs of nature. “Les Papillons” (The butterflies) by Claude Debussy was followed by “Le Rossignol des Lilas” (The nightingale in the lilac) by Reynaldo Hahn and “Er ist’s” (Spring is here!) by Hugo Wolf.  All were sung with skill and warmth and conveyed a sense of Potter’s deep love of nature.  Francis Greep’s playing of “Er ist’s” was especially notable.

The program continued with romantic songs underlining Potter’s engagement to Norman Warne and then turned darker to reflect the tragedy of Warne’s sudden death.  Two works by George Crumb, “Wind Elegy” and “Let it be forgotten” were sung with particular delicacy and great feeling.

The next work, “To A Child” from the poem by Judith Wright with music by Ross Edwards was also given a fine, reflective performance.

It was followed by the highlight of the program, “Warble for Lilac Time” from the poem by Walt Whitman with music by Elliott Carter.  This dramatic work was superbly sung, clearly showing Lankshear’s technical skills.  Francis Greep’s piano playing of this complex work was excellent.

This fine program of songs finished with an appropriately sensitive performance of “Nature, the gentlest mother” by Aaron Copland to the words of Emily Dickinson.

 

 Photo by Eva Frey

 This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 15 May.

 Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A Letter for Molly

 

A Letter for Molly by Brittanie Shipway.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney May 9 – June 4, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
Opening Night May 13

Creatives:
Director/Understudy:    Ursula Yovich; Assistant Director: Erin Taylor
Visual Art & Cultural Consultant
: Alison Williams
Set & Costume Designer
: Hugh O’Connor
Lighting Designer
: Kelsey Lee; Composer & Sound Designer: Brendon Boney
Video Designer
: Morgan Moroney
Stage Manager
: Lauren Tulloh; Assistant Stage Manager: Bronte Schuftan
Costume Supervisor
: Sara Kolijn; Workshop Dramaturg: Miranda Middleton
Technical Creative Intern
: Aroha Pehi; Movement Consultant: Scott Witt

Cast:
Miimi - Lisa Maza
Darlene/Nurse - Paula Nazarski
Linda/Receptionist - Nazaree Dickerson
Renee - Brittanie Shipway
Nick/Doctor/Photographer - Joel Granger
Understudy - Toby Blome

*In respect of Gumbaynggirr culture, characters are listed in order of Elder status.

Photos by Prudence Upton

The four women in the opening fire and smoking ceremony

A Letter for Molly is a heart-warming celebration of more than survival over four generations of Gumbayngirr women.  It is a truth-telling record of their lives as ordinary people since the 1960s – when Miimi forcefully tells her daughter Darlene never to say she is ‘Aboriginal’ but just ‘Australian’ – to  modern times when Renee is determined to become a successful Indigenous artist.  

Humour is central to their culture: their strength in difficult times, and the core strength of the theatre-work they have created.  If you want to find Gumbayngirr country, near Nambucca on the New South Wales north coast, just look for the Big Banana!

Each woman gives birth to a daughter – the source of love, loyalty, and struggle to survive as a single mother.  Despite a kind of recognition in the 1967 Referendum which gave the Federal Government constitutional power for the benefit of Aboriginal people; despite the Mabo decision which established land rights in the 1990s; and despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2008 national apology for the taking away of Aboriginal children by Federal and State Governments over the previous 100 years – the three events are made to form a background time-line in the audio soundtrack – the truth is that by Renee’s time the Gumbayngirr language is fading, even while traditions of spiritual connections remain.

Conventions and ways of living have changed, too.  In the play, time shifts back and forth and perhaps the funniest scene is when Renee, who shares a house with a gay man, Nick, in a genuine friendship without sex, takes a pregnancy test, the result of a brief fling elsewhere.

Brittanie Shipway and Joel Granger
as Renee and Nick
in A Letter for Molly

Renee succeeds as an artist after making a different decision about her personal life than her predecessors.  Her story of artistic creation, in an odd and unusual way, parallels the creation of this work of theatre art in which she appears.  

There is much to learn while you thoroughly enjoy the twists and turns of life with the Gumbayngirr people, received with great enthusiasm by the opening night audience with typical Ensemble warmth of feeling.  Not to be missed.

The family photo taken by Nick:
Miimi, seated (Lisa Maza)
L-R behind: Linda (Nazaree Dickerson); Darlene (Paula Nazarski); Renee (Brittanie Shipway)
in A Letter for Molly




 

 

 

 

 

Friday, May 13, 2022

THREE TALL WOMEN

 


 Three Tall Women by Edward Albee.

Directed and designed by Sophie Benassi. Movement director. Ylaria Rogers.Lighting design Stephen Still. Sound designe. Neville Pye. Production manager. Bel Henderson. Stage manager. Sophia Carlton. Chaika Theatre Company. ACTHUB. 18 Spinifex Street Kingston.May 11-21 2022. Bookings: the littleboxoffice.com/acthub/.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Canberra’s newest theatre company has opened ACTHUB’s inaugural 2022 season with Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women. Albee’s Pulitzer Prize –winning play receives an exciting and outstanding production from newly created  professional theatre company Chaika. Chaika is the Russian word for seagull and on opening night I saw the new company take wings and soar to extraordinary heights. It was not only because of Albee’s intricately woven play about one woman at different stages of her life played by three female actors. Albee’s poignant and probing play about life and death, hopes and dreams, frustrations and failures may not be to everybody’s taste. However, we are compelled in this riveting performance to confront our own attitude to the ages of life and the inevitable mortality.

Natasha Vickery as C. Lainie Hart as B in Three Tall Women

What is extraordinary in Chaika’s Three Tall Women is the quality of the acting from the three of Canberra’s finest. Karen Vickery plays the wealthy woman A in her declining years and the same woman before her decline. Lainie Hart is the younger woman B in her early Fifties and Natasha Vickery plays the woman C in her Twenties.  Blue Hyslop appears as the silent son, visiting the dying mother’s bedside behind a scrim in homage to the ever present final curtain. In Act One Vickery plays the wealthy old widow, suffering incontinence and memory loss with the consequent afflictions of ascerbic irritability and obstinacy. Hart plays her companion and Natasha Vickery is the young lawyer’s assistant intent on sorting out the old woman’s affairs. This is Vickery’s Act. From the outset she commands attention, embodying the horror of infirmity and decline. The second act is more evenly balanced as we are introduced to the same woman at different stages of her life. All three appear in furs, suggesting affluence and a certain assurance.  It also identifies them as the same person at different ages.Albee transcends time. Reality is cloaked in the symbolism of life’s parading changes. Director Sophie Benassi sensitively guides the performances, ensuring that each actor captures the individual qualities of their age. Pacing and timing are the hallmarks of Benassi’s work with her actors.  C is excited by the prospect of the future while also being shocked by the vision of the future in A and B.  “I’ll never become you” And of course she does. B balances on the cusp, emerging in middle age with an acquired confidence in who she is that feeds her cynicism. Vickery’s wife of the short man with the glass eye confronts her aging with defiance  and the assumed privilege of her wealth. It may at times be difficult to follow the shifting and prevailing attitudes of each age in the woman’s life but the three remarkable ensemble performances by Vickery, Hart and Natasha Vickery provoke thoughtful consideration. Hyslop’s presence captures the mystique of family conflict and unresolved tension. He is in a sense the symbol of the woman’s failure.

The production, appropriately played on the proscenium in the intimate ACTHUB refurbished Causeway Hall is ideally suited to Albee’s investigation of life and death The play weaves an intricate web of connections that reveal one woman’s passage through time but also resonates with each of our lives as we take the same inevitable journey.

Karen Vickery as A in Three Tall Women

Three Tall Women is set in New York. Neville Pye’s sound design introduces  Movement director Ylaria Rogers’ opening silhouette of the three tall women with Frank Sinatra’s celebratory rendition of New York New York and his fatalistic That’s Life.  As A leaves the stage Edith Piaf’s iconic and resigned Non, Je ne Regrette Rien is A’s  philosophical acknowledgement that  life’s journey is transitory and unavoidable . Ironically she also regard death as the happiest moment of her life. Pye also subtly introduces the sounds of hooves, reverberating in the old woman’s memory and the regular rhythm of heartbeats that pulse away life’s time. There is a sombre profound tone to Albee’s dialogue. Listen closely and your life is echoed in the text.

This is a beautifully orchestrated performance of Albee’s witty, poignant, reflective  and occasionally cynical reminder that “one man (and woman) in his (and her) time plays many parts.” Chaika’s star has risen and it shines brightly on Canberra’s theatrical landscape. I look forward to their next production with eager antici-pation. Three Tall Women is the third play that I have seen staged at ACTHUB. Lakespeare’s As You Like It, Alchemy Artistic’s The Boys and Chaika’s Three Tall Women firmly cement Canberra’s newest theatre venue as the home of outstanding local productions performed and produced by outstanding local artists.  This really is theatre “not to be missed.”

 

Three Tall Women


 Three Tall Women by Edward Albee.  Chaika Theatre Co at ACT Hub, Kingston, Canberra, May 11 – 21, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 12

Director – Sophie Benassi
Movement Director – Ylaria Rogers
Stage Manager – Sophia Carlton
Production Manager / Stage Manager Mentor – Bel Henderson
Set and Costume Designer – Sophie Benassi
Lighting Designer – Stephen Still
Sound Designer – Neville Pye
Show Photography – Jane Duong Photography

Cast:
Lainie Hart (Nurse / Woman at 52) , Blue Hyslop (non-speaking Son), Karen Vickery (Dying Woman / Woman at 90) and Natasha Vickery (Lawyer / Woman at 28)

To review this production of such a significant play I need to write almost separately about the production design and performance by Chaika from my criticism of the play itself.  Chaika writes in their program “Three Tall Women is a consummate play by Albee – compelling, witty and poignant in turns, a ‘pearl-handled dagger of a play’.”

I agree that it is a ‘dagger’, but will say further about my interpretation after saying that the design and performances are top class.  

Sophie Benassi has arranged the staging very well in the Causeway Hall, with the bedroom (for dying and dead bodies – and the visiting Son) behind and above the lounge room setting, for ‘conversation’ – with beautiful furniture, obviously made by the Woman’s ‘architect’ husband.  

The only fault – in the Hall – is that the seating is not fully raked as it needs to be so audience in every row can see over the people in front of them.  I hope The Hub, as it grows as a permanent theatre venue, will be able to fund flexible raked seating for different configurations.

All three actors captured the fine detail needed – in voice, and movement (from the stiffness of the very old to the eye-roll of the young) – to create marvellously defined characters.  In the first hour-long half, Karen Vickery as the near- and finally dying-old woman is a tour de force in her own right, in a semi-dementia role full of lapses of memory, of paranoia, and anger at her own lapses and those she perceives in others.

In the second half, Lainie Hart’s determination at 52 to be happy, and especially Natasha Vickery’s tears as, at 28, she is forced to contemplate her unlikely to be happy future, match Karen Vickery’s not-yet-dead all-knowing old woman.  This is ensemble playing at its best.

To see this production, therefore, is highly recommended.

But then, as Shakespeare wrote, “the play’s the thing…”
It’s often said that every play is autobiographical in some way.  It’s certainly true of Three Tall Women, as Albee said in several interviews.  His adoptive mother, Frances (he knew at the age of 6 that he had been adopted very soon after birth) was a shop assistant who married into the wealthy Albee theatre family to become described as a ‘socialite’.
[Read more at http://edwardalbeesociety.org/biography/ ]

Wikipedia records:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Albee  ]

Albee left home for good in his late teens [as does the Son in the play]. In a later interview, he said: "I never felt comfortable with the adoptive parents. I don't think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn't know how to be a son, either." In a 1994 interview, he said he left home at 18 because "[he] had to get out of that stultifying, suffocating environment." In 2008, he told interviewer Charlie Rose that he was "thrown out" because his parents wanted him to become a "corporate thug" and did not approve of his aspirations to become a writer.

At
https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1999-01-15-9901150716-story.html  ]

under the headline ALBEE'S MOTHER LIVES ON IN `TALL WOMEN'
Frank Rizzo; staff writer for the Hartford Courant, Jan 15, 1999 wrote:

“Some writers look back at their mothers with nostalgia, others with regret.

“Then there's Edward Albee, who looks back with his version of the truth, seeking neither forgiveness, understanding nor revenge.

"I had a subject I didn't want to write about until after she died," Albee says in a phone interview from his home in Florida. "That play obviously was coming together all my life. I think about my characters a long time before I trust them in my plays. I don't start writing them down until they have a life of their own. But [after her death], it was time to write it. Maybe I couldn't make it coherent until after she died."

Watching the play, particularly reacting to Karen Vickery’s full characterisation in Act 1, I could not help but see the play as revenge.  Albee’s mother died in 1989, when he was sixty-one, and no longer the absurdist play writer of his earlier years –  The Zoo Story (1959), The Sandbox, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962).  

Three Tall Women was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, perhaps because of the intensity of his representation of his mother as a superficial bigot, but I found the hour-long focus on her interminal reminiscences and flashes of entirely self-centred aggression dominated the scene, leaving the other two characters as no more than foils for her bitterness.  In the second half the three versions of his mother, as he imagined her at 28, 52 and around 90, at least formed a more balanced presentation of their characters.  He, himself, appears only at his mother’s death, with no dialogue; while she remembers him (apparently after her death) as kissing her forehead only for show, because the nurse and lawyer would have been watching.  

This ‘memory’ is Albee’s invention – and what a bitter invention it is, by a 62-year-old strictly homosexual man about a mother who, it seems from some of what she says in Act 1, must have rejected him at 18 partly because of his sexuality as virulently as he rejected the family and left home – which, in his play, she complains about.

I hoped, since I had not read or even known about this play before, that I could find intimations of future feminism in it.  After all I had always been impressed, since my teenage readings in the 1950s, by Bernard Shaw’s strong support in his dramas for independent women.  Perhaps I could interpret Albee’s mother’s bigotry, and acceptance that every man is a sexual predator, while also agreeing in Act 2 that women all gave in to male demands – as well as only having affairs themselves out of boredom and revenge for their husband’s dalliances – for financial support; perhaps I could think Albee was saying to women, don’t accept the roles imposed upon you.

But none of the three tall women that he creates in this play offers any hope of change.  At 28, when told by the other older versions of herself what will happen to her, all she can do is collapse into tears.  I can only conclude that Albee could not imagine anything like modern feminism – in 1990!

So while I take it for granted that these women directing and performing, having set up an independent theatre company, are doing what is perfectly normal – as well as at an entirely professional standard – I’m left to wonder about this play by a man full of bitterness.  The women’s performances were certainly compelling, but there is little wit and poignancy.  I didn’t see the pearl handle on this dagger of a play.  Just the dagger.


Karen Vickery, Lainie Hart and Natasha Vickery
in Three Tall Women by Edward Albee, Act 1
Chaika Theatre Co


 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

THREE TALL WOMEN


Written by Edward Albee

Directed by Sophie Benassi

Chaika Theatre production

ACT HUB Theatre, Kingston to 21 May

 

Reviewed by Len Power 11 May 2022

 

ACT HUB Theatre has made a big splash with their inaugural Chaika Theatre production of ‘Three Tall Women’, a play by one of America’s foremost playwrights, Edward Albee.

Most famous for his 1962 play, ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’, Albee continued to write plays but none equalled the critical success of that play until he wrote ‘Three Tall Women’ in 1991.  After a European premiere, the play opened off-Broadway in New York in 1994, receiving several major awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It did not have a Broadway season until 2018.

 Focusing on one woman, the play is a powerful look at life and ageing.  From the optimism, idealism and confidence of youth, through decisions, compromises, regrets and world-weary cynicism and anger, acceptance and a kind of peace is eventually reached.

Director, Sophie Benassi, has given the play a production that, despite its unusual structure, is dramatically clear and smoothly staged.  Her set and costume designs serve the play well and the lighting design by Stephen Still and sound design by Neville Pye add considerable atmosphere and colour.

This is a play that requires acting of a high calibre.  The three roles for women present considerable challenges for the actresses with its shifting moments in time and its own strange reality.

As Woman A, Karen Vickery dominates the first act with a strong but controlled performance of a bitter woman at the end of her long life who is struggling with health issues as well as anger at the world and those around her.  Woman B, the nurse, played by Lainie Hart and Woman C, a legal clerk, played by Natasha Vickery, give fine performances as well.

From left: Karen Vickery, Natasha Vickery and Lainie Hart

In the second act, as that same woman is presented as three parts of herself, young, middle-aged and older, all three actresses give extraordinary performances of great depth.  Natasha Vickery shows all facets of an idealistic and rather na├»ve young woman with no tolerance for the thought of ageing.  Lainie Hart deftly displays the anger and cynicism of a woman disappointed by much of her life so far.  Karen Vickery is the older, sophisticated woman displaying all the traits of her younger selves and able to laugh at aspects of her life while covering up elements of bitterness under the surface.

While the play itself is a fascinating and strong statement about ageing and how we live our lives, this production is a must see for the memorable performances of these fine local actresses.

 

Photo by Jane Duong

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.

 

The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes


 The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes.  Back to Back Theatre at Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse, May 11 – 13, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
May 11

Authors                         Mark Deans, Michael Chan, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben
Composition                 Luke Howard Trio – Daniel Farrugia, Luke Howard, Jonathon Zion
Performers                    Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price
Director                         Bruce Gladwin

Screen Design               Rhian Hinkley, lowercase
Lighting Design            Andrew Livingston, bluebottle
Costume Design           Shio Otani
Sound Design               Lachlan Carrick

For more details, go to https://backtobacktheatre.com/project/shadow/

________________________________________________________________________________

The title and the image above, used to advertise this Back to Back stage play, are deliberately mysterious.  You will actually see Simon Laherty, not in a singlet among African safari trophies, but in a business suit when he comes on to a stage, empty except for the couple, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price, who have set up a few seats for a community hall meeting.  

Scott has been trying to explain to Sarah about how to avoid sexual harassment in public situations, amusing the audience when describing when touching a crotch is inappropriate; and pointing out that it’s OK in your own bedroom, which is a private place.  

Simon’s task appears to be to announce who they are to us, the people attending this meeting, but nothing goes quite to plan.  Will Sarah do the introduction?  To make sure that her voice is heard?  While Scott is not as respectful in public as Simon wants them all to be, because he is so angry about the centuries and centuries of mistreatment of people with disabilities.  Because all three actually have speaking disabilities, everything they say is reproduced on a high screen by a voice recognition Artificial Intelligence program on a computer we later find is named Siri.

So what is this Shadow, what is it hunting, and how does what it planned to catch become the hunter instead?  It turns out to be a metaphor of a very philosophical kind.  It makes a very unusual kind of theatre – but as Sarah points out, they all think in different ways, challenging in one quite extensive interchange, for example, what it is to be ‘normal’ – when they are as normal as ‘normal’ people who think they are not normal.

Our response in the audience to the sense of humour subtly changes as the ‘meeting’ becomes a real meeting of minds.  Our laughter at ‘crotch’ jokes becomes a warm recognition of the reality of how these people on stage are treated by ‘normal’ people like us.  The form of theatre, where they are actors and we are audience, shifts.  These people are using their real names and are really unable to speak in standard forms of pronunciation.  We need Siri to translate what they say, just as they – and we – need to trust Siri to write on the screen what they mean to say.  

Ironically, for hearing impaired people “All Australian free-to-air broadcasters must provide closed captions on programs shown between 6:00am and midnight on their primary channel (for example: Nine, Seven, Ten, ABC1 and SBS1). News and current affairs programs must have captions at all times.”  But Sarah hates captions because they represent the divide between “able” and “disabled”.

The important, and original, idea in this play is that Siri, like those computers in Hollywood movies, with artificial intelligence will come to rule the world when she (she has a smooth kindly-sounding woman’s voice) becomes more intelligent than any one of us.  We will all be disabled then.  

How would you like that, eh?  That’s the challenge these actors who are not really acting present to us, who find ourselves taking part in a fictional community meeting.  Will we vote for all power to Siri?  Will we vote for all power to the ‘normals’?

If we can say that the value of theatre is that it can change the world, by creating in our imaginations a fiction that seems real, that gives us a new understanding, and that makes us re-think how we behave – then The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is a great example of the best in theatre.  

It’s no wonder then, “The Norwegian Ministry of Culture has announced Australia's Back to Back Theatre as the 2022 recipient of the International Ibsen Award.

“Considered to be ‘the Nobel Prize for Theatre’, the International Ibsen Award is gifted every two years and comes with a $2.5 million Norwegian kroner (equivalent to almost $400,000 Australian Dollars) cash prize. It aims to honour an individual or company that has brought new artistic dimensions to the world of drama or theatre. Back to Back Theatre, a professional theatre company with an ensemble of actors with disabilities at its core, is the first Australian company to win this award.

“The Chair of the International Ibsen Award Committee Ingrid Lorentzen said: "We are proud to be able to honor an outstanding and unique theater company that asks questions of their audience, of society and of each other through groundbreaking productions. Back to Back's work is exciting, unsettling and thought-provoking. It inspires us to be better artists and better people.

"Back to Back gives voice to social and political issues, and their work is a relentlessly collective practice, where several creators, ideas and perspectives are always present and create a space for inclusion and opportunities. This is part of what makes their work so memorable and so important. Back to Back's work has inspired and moved each of us in the committee, and we look forward to presenting this well-earned award to this theatre company."

[ Reported by Stephi Wild, April 1, 2022 in Broadway World at
https://www.broadwayworld.com/norway/article/Back-to-Back-Theatre-Wins-2022-International-Ibsen-Award-20220401 ]