it’s dark outside

ImageThis evening I saw It’s Dark Outside, which is currently showing at Carriageworks as part of Sydney Festival.

“From the creators of multi-award winning production The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer comes this heartfelt adventure of an old man wandering into the wild.

As the sun sets he is swept up in a surreal western, on the run from a mysterious tracker hell-bent on hunting him down. The world around him crumbles, revealing that he cannot hide from everything.

Created and performed by Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Chris Isaacs, this exploration  of dementia is told through puppetry, mask, animation  and live performance with  a haunting score from Rachael Dease.”

The effect of the puppetry was sublime. Dementia is an illness that hollows out many families – the people I was with had all had a grandparent who suffered from it and the tears from those around us well attested to its pervasiveness. But the presence of the puppets meant the agony of direct confrontation was suspended. We did not have to sink under the weight of recognition – there were no ‘humans’ onstage for which we could substitute our own grandparents/loved ones, whose minds have become cotton wool.

Lesson learnt: never underestimate the power of cotton wool. As the old man slowly lost his grip on the world, the puppeteers, dressed in black, would pull out small cotton-shaped clouds from behind his head, which would then waft across the stage as he desperately fought to catch them back. With the black background, the puppeteers all but disappeared, leaving these soft white clouds floating across the stage as this old man lost his mind.

The lack of language in this show was intensely inspiring. I suspect it could be watched almost anywhere in the world and much the same reaction would be suckerpunched from the audience. The only words came from Rachael Dease’s stunning score. The rest was movement and image, plain and simple (I’m sure it was incredibly complex but it felt like it had been concentrated for the audience from a frenzy of possible gestures down to a quiet exactness, wringing pathos out of each moment without soliciting sympathy or risking alienation).

I saw more grown men crying after this show than I think I have ever seen before. It’s on for a couple more days. Don’t miss it.

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