Saturday, April 5, 2014

Johnny Castellano is Mine by Emma Gibson

Johnny Castellano is Mine by Emma Gibson.  Presented by Canberra Youth Theatre and The Street Theatre, directed by Karla Conway; set and lighting designed by Samantha Pickering; sound design by Stephen Fitzgerald.  At Street Two, April 3 – 12, 2014.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
April 5

Watching this mystical piece somehow reminded me of reading an intense emotionally shaped short story – perhaps something like one of James Joyce’s Dubliners.  When I read a story in which at first I understand only fragments based upon the words and feelings which play on my imagination, I find myself slowly drawn into the experience almost of being someone else – their flashes of memories, their reactions to bits and pieces of actions, by themselves and others, their changing moods, their story through their own eyes.

In this theatre piece, Alice, played with considerable skill by dance-trained Alison Plevey, tells of her real or perhaps unreal relationship with Johnny Castellano, the spunk boy in her small-town high school, through a lifetime and death – all possibly pure imagination.  We not only hear her words, as if we were hearing that short story, but we see her representation in movement – not quite pure dance, yet never simple mime – of her actions, her moods and state of mind.  The performance takes place in an abstract setting of horizontal and vertical straight lines, in a central hollow open-sided cube and in hanging strip lights.  When these all hang in the vertical, death and final departure is imminent.  The sound track is essentially musique concrète.

The theatrical form, then, settles into what I would call abstract symbolism, but rather than alienating us from Alice’s story, we are slowly overwhelmed by an empathetic sense of doom.  I think it was this dark mood which reminded me of James Joyce’s work where snatches of ordinary reality come to symbolise powerful forces beyond our control.

So, in my view, Emma Gibson’s new work is unusual, original and absorbing, and she has been served very well indeed by Karla Conway  and her creative team in putting together the theatrical elements to make the story work on stage, including (I am guessing) choreography by Alison Plevey which is not explicitly acknowledged in the program.

Johnny Castellano is Mine is worth more than the hour it lasts on stage.  It lives on in one’s imagination as good theatre should.