Review: Fascinating, mystifying theatre

theatre “It’s Dark Outside,” created by Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts, for the Perth Theatre Company, at The Street Theatre, 7:30pm June 4-7, 4pm, June 8. Reviewed by Helen Musa

THIS is a little gem of a show.

Chris Isaacs and Arielle Gray. Photo by  Richard Jefferson

Chris Isaacs and Arielle Gray. Photo by Richard Jefferson

Just under 60 minutes long, it seems more suited to schools or aged-care facilities than to a conventional auditorium, although the exquisite puppetry and physical theatre techniques of the entire company plainly drew admiration from the audience.

There was no conventional program for this show, leaving audience members not primed to speculate on the fragmentary content.

An old man, masked and at times turning into a puppet, sits on the stage trying to drink a mug of coffee. But it eludes him and as he attempts to control the mug, even his table escapes his grasp.

Outside his room, the man attempts to pitch a tent, but another tent joins him, soon morphing into a steed that carries him across a panorama suggesting the American Wild West – an impression enhanced by composer Rachel Dease’s musical homage to spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone. The old man is surrounded by mesas, buttes, canyons and cacti in a kind of nightmare caricature of the last frontier.

All the while, a mysterious silhouetted bounty-hunter holding a “Wanted” poster moves in on his prey. But what is his prey? He seems to be carrying a butterfly catcher full of clouds, but they morph into a little dog and a baby.

And when the hunter finally comes face-to-face with the old man, there is a suggestion that the hunter might be the old man’s son. Then in one of the two poignant farewell scenes in the play, the hunter strips the old man and carries his last vestiges of him home to his own son.

This is what seems to be going on, but everything is relative in “It’s Dark Outside,” so you can’t be sure. Objects change their function and size, characters are sometimes played by people, sometimes seen in shadow theatre and sometimes performed by puppets manipulated Bunraku-style by visible puppeteers. The moves are carefully calculated, the manipulations are exquisite, and nary a word is spoken.

What is real? What is in the mind? These are age-old theatrical questions, but they are unravelled the moment you know that the company’s object is to explore “redemption and dementia.”

Dementia? That would explain the fragmentary nature of the images and actions, played to a T in this highly recommended, fascinating yet mystifying night in the theatre.

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