Friday, March 26, 2021

The Beauty Thief


The Beauty Thief: Reflections on a fairytale, by thespians with differing abilities. Rebus Theatre, at Belconnen Community Theatre, March 26-28, 2021

Directors – Robin Davidson and Sammy Moynihan
Music Composition and Performance РMarlené Claudine Radice
Lighting Design – Ali Clinch; Costume Design – Victoria “Fi” Hopkins
Stage Management – Dr Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak
Music Operation – Melissa Gryglewski; Photography – Joachim Ellenreider
Projection Operation – Nicole Seifert
Video Documentation – James Matthews


Louise Ellery, Lucy Raffaele, Simone Georgia Bartram, Peter Rosini,
Joel Swadling, Grant McLindon, Kimberley Adams

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 26

To make a drama is to make meaning from an “insubstantial pageant” – for those who perform and those who observe.  

In many ways The Beauty Thief reminded me of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, where Prospero speaks of the insubstantial pageant fading, and says

 “…These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air.”

Rebus describes itself as a “mixed ability company using theatre for social change…[looking] at issues surrounding the challenges faced by people with a Disability, Mental Illness or lived experience of any type of marginalisation, inviting the audience to help us find the solutions.”  

By taking elements of several European traditional fairytales – a king, a queen, their baby girl, a jealous wicked witch, a woodsman with his axe, a wolf, a thief who would be king, a crowd of village women – as director Robin Davidson describes of the group “We found characters, tried out scenes and wove together a story.  We never talked much about what the story meant, only asked – what would this character do?  What is an interesting next scene?  And yet we happened upon a story that resonated, that had something to say, about beauty, about power.”

What it said to me was that people of “mixed” abilities have their own beauty – and aren’t we all mixed in our abilities in our different ways?  And about power, it said we all must not let jealousy and cronyism rule our lives; but we must take responsibility for ourselves and towards everyone else, joining together in community – and not take the easy way out of relying totally on a leader, even if they are genuinely empathetic.

That seems a pretty substantial achievement in making this drama, when director Sammy Moynihan says “As directors, Robin and I simply elevated the existing magic of the cast to shape a performance-ready piece of theatre.  This was also a beautiful experience, floating through the chaos of it all and being guided by the cast as much as we guided them…a testament to collaboration, fearless expression and the joys of embracing the beautiful unknown.”

The process is there in the product, so watching is not about following an exciting pre-determined page-turner.  You will need patience, allowing yourself time to absorb the sounds, the colours, the movements, the unexpected laughs, the spoken and the unspoken, while you wait with a sense of mystery.

And in the end, there is a political message for you to interpret in your own way: something about democracy and leadership came to my mind, seeing our Parliament House here in Canberra “floating through the chaos of it all” with its chorus of women standing up for power as the play’s final text slide advises.

I think these Rebus actors’ spirits will never melt away.