Thursday, September 7, 2017

Landscape with Monsters

Image: Canberra Theatre Centre

Landscape with Monsters, a Circa and Merrigong Theatre Company Co-Production presented by Canberra Theatre Centre at The Playhouse, September 6-9, 2017.

Director – Yaron Lifschitz; Lighting / Audio Visual Design – Toby Knyvett; Set / Circus Apparatus Design – Jason Organ; Costume Design – Libby McDonnell

Performers: Billie Wilson Coffey, Kathryn O’Keeffe, Jessica Connell, Conor Neall, Tim Fyffe, Seppe Van Looveren, Scott Grove.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 6

I have no idea why Yaron Lifschitz’s latest “new type of circus” is named Landscape with Monsters.  The publicity says “Emotions and bodies intertwine until we discover the monsters in the landscape just might be ourselves...”  I found the show has a kind of naif innocence about it, except for the two occasions when the ladder, at least 3 metres long, was seriously likely to fall into or even fly into the audience.  That was an OH&S monster for us, let alone the performers – definitely a matter for concern in those thankfully brief frightening moments.

The show is constructed from only three circus elements : balancing – objects (like that long ladder) and people (up to four high); acrobatic gymnastics; and the almost old-fashioned use of contortion, reminding me of a street performer I’ve seen who squashed herself into a tiny transparent box on top of a two metre pole; or even of the old-time famous escape artist Houdini.

The physical skills and amazing flexibility of all the performers was fascinating to behold, and the sense of having fun flowed out to the audience.

Image: Brisbane Powerhouse

There is a sort-of non-linear story-line bookended by a young boy-girl couple.  In the beginning she leaps onto his rock-steady form, as if she needs his support and comfort.  At the end, perhaps, there is more equality in the relationship when she wraps him around her.  The audience laughed, but I think in happy recognition of the reversal of convention.

I have to say that Lifschitz’s intention described in the publicity as telling “the story of post-industrial cities now in decay.  Metal and wooden objects intersect with fast-paced acrobatics.  This intensely physical new show is at once humorous and brutal, savage and beautiful” was not the show I saw, or the show the audience in general responded to. 

We saw a great deal of humour in figures being squashed into boxes – certainly not the fear and violence of, say, the worst parts of post-industrial Chicago.  We saw expert human figures finding ways of working creatively in, around, on top of boxes and high in the air up that ladder and a gantry structure.

Image: Civic Theatre, Newcastle


There were images of struggle to fit in or stay on top of things, but for us the feeling was entirely positive – just as it always was in the traditional circuses I remember from the 1950s, when the girls did somersaults on the backs of fast-moving horses, ten clowns would balance together on one bicycle while riding around the ring, and the lion-tamer really did have the lion eating out his hand, or even not eating his head in its jaws.  Those were the days of  real danger, as some lion ‘tamers’ unfortunately discovered.

These performers also were in real danger – they worked at heights several metres above the stage floor and were flung about with no safety harness nor even soft landing mats.  Yet they were so clearly in control that only occasionally did we feel there was a real risk of injury. 

We applauded their skills, and enjoyed the humour along with them.  If this show represents the future of “cities now in decay” then I can only say, Bring it On – it looks like fun.

Image: Brisbane Powerhouse