Saturday, January 28, 2023





Written and directed by Joachim Matschoss. Performed by Isabel Knight, Amalia Krueger, Sasha Leong, Isabella Anderson, Giacinta Squires, Nikki Green, Verity Wood, Breanna Milliken, Florensia Andarini. Lighting design by Shane Grant. Movement direction by Nikki Green. Sound design/Music by Michelle Eddington. Visual design by Philip Roberts. Stage Management/ Production assistance by Ben Jameison.  Back Yard Theatre Ensemble. Midsumma Festival. La Mama Theatre January 17-25 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

It has been some years since I have been to La Mama , Melbourne’s iconic home of theatrical experimentation and creative opportunity. Established in 1957 by the visionary Betty Burstall and after her  continued under the artistic leadership of the recently retired Liz Jones, La Mama has been a  lighthouse for independent theatre, theatrical innovation and a launching pad for emerging directors, actors and theatre workers. The theatre has been restored since a devastating fire some years ago threatened its closure. It remains a very small space and its current production, Shadowfall, written and directed by prolific playwright, poet, director and producer Joachim Mattschoss was played with about twenty people on either side of a traverse staging. This is intimate theatre at its most involving and engaging when directed with such sensibility and performed with such intensity and intelligence as in this Midsumma  Festival production.

Isabel Knight as Jazz in Shadowfall
 Nine women in white occupy the space. Some trace the outlines of shadowy lines swirling across the floor. Among them a dancer appears to float through the air, the body turning and falling. Another passes the audience carrying a Wayang Kulit shadow puppet, warding off ill spirits. In the centre of the stage a woman’s arm reaches towards the sky.” I am Woman” she cries out, in affirmation of identity. The bearer of portent, the carrier of the Wayang , intones the pain and longing of the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.  Images flash through Matschoss’s poetic text. Broken glass is the woman’s fragility while the shaft of light offers hope for release from the pain. Jazz (Isabel Knight) caught in the vortex of confused identity reaches out to women for acceptance, understanding and hope. The singer (Florensia Andarini) echoes her search for release with Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters. She follows Jazz, her haunting note prophesying the tormented shadows of Jazz’s mind.  Mattschoss directs his highly focused ensemble of actors with purposeful intensity. The dancer (Nikki Green) bends and rotates as if high upon a building with perilous foreboding. In the midst of her anguish Jazz is one woman, trapped like many, subject to bullying, harassment and a domestic abuse that she even hides from her friend. She rejects their offer, with Mattschoss’s evocative imagery of “wet leaves on slippery stairs” to explain the markings on her face.

  The final image is one of hopelessness and submission as Jazz climbs the stairs in the theatre towards the top of the building, lured by the image of the dancer on the roof. Matschoss offers a bleak aspect of the devastating impact of tortured mental health and domestic violence. His cast respond with visually striking physical theatre, a choreographed dance of shared suffering. Shadowfall appears to offer little hope until a feather floats down from high above, a symbol of transformation, promising hope.

Nikki Green  as the Dancer in Shadowfall
 Shadowfall is a riveting and at times disturbing reminder of the struggles that women continue to face.  Knight’s performance is at times painful to watch as she reminds us so powerfully of the force of individual fear and the dangers that lie in the dark shadows of silence. Matschoss’s symbolic ball of wax in the characters’ hands may provide some relief to the pervasive doom. Brittle and strong, able to withstand the injustices, the physical abuse and the threat to confidence and identity may offer the hope that the floating feather gently suggests.

  Matschoss’s text is at times elusive and the symbols and poetic metaphors invite a probing and curious interpretation. Nikki Green’s movement direction is expressive and specific . Shadowfall has the impression of having been created from workshop. This gives the production a feeling of collaborative commitment. The elements of performance, song, dance and visuals lend it a unity that punctuates its themes and message with physical and intellectual effect. 

Florensia Andarini as The Singer in Shadowfall

 True to La Mama’s mission, Shadowfall satisfied my interest in experimental, original and independent work that has something to say and says it in an entertaining and intellectually challenging theatrical work.



Photos by Brendan Bonsack