Sometimes the internet is a blessed thing. Of course a Tumblr blog entitled Cats That Look Like Pin Up Girls exists.

Yesterday I saw two shows at Carriageworks as part of Sydney Festival: It’s Dark Outside and Othello C‘est Qui.

Othello C’est Qui‘s blurb:

“Of all the roles for black actors in the western world, Othello is by far the most powerful and legendary. Yet Shakespeare’s famous Moor is barely known in Africa.

Across this cultural divide, Ivory Coast-born performer Franck Edmond Yao and German actress Cornelia Dörr unite to interrogate the confrontational world of Othello and Desdemona. Sharp, political and sensual, Othello c’est qui (Othello who’s that) is a liberating exploration of cultural clichés and boundaries.

The actors reveal their distinctly expressive playing styles as they parody traditional Othello performances with candour. Together they pull apart themes of colonialism, migration, religion and politics in an urgent, seemingly improvised way.

This award-winning production creates a tough yet moving portrait of prejudice and the theatre itself.”

The moment that crystallised this production (aside from the stunning performance itself) were the two women sitting in front of us in the audience. Theatre etiquette should be pretty easy to follow – minimise auxiliary sound production, engage with the performers, etc. Not only did these women bring hot chips (one in tupperware, the other in extra-crinkly foil), they also brought extra gassy soft drink, which sighed quite loudly every time they opened the bottle, and turned their phones on to check they were on silent (ensuring that nice warm Nokia welcome note rang out).

This, however, was only a prelude. At the end of the show they both got up to leave and one of the women turned to the other, leant over, and said:

“I think Othello must be about jealousy. Yes, that must be why they referenced it so much.”

When I recounted this vignette to my Dad, rather than being amused he turned to me and said something along the lines of the following. He said that he’s never understood how Mum, Amy, and I can go and see so much theatre, and not be superhumans. I was gobsmacked.

Just take the two shows we saw yesterday: one was intensely moving and the other provoked ideas about performativity and race that had never occurred to me. Why am I still this same person? Surely they pushed my mind and stretched my heart out by its ventricles? Why am I not better today than I was yesterday?

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.