Theatre Review: Black Swan's The Eisteddfod is Delightfully Awkward
On a chilly Saturday evening, two pals-- Daniel Morey and Eemali McDonald -- experienced an interesting night of theatre, courtesy of Black Swan Theatre Company’s WA premiere production of The Eisteddfod. Through the magic of Google Docs, they were able to translate their discussion into this review, for your enjoyment.
DM: Well, where to start? There’s so much to digest.
EM: It definitely was a production to remember- it’s not everyday you see Shakespeare, corny 80s numbers and a bad case of arrested development in one play.
DM: Well, let’s start with the script. Lally Katz is certainly a one-of-a-kind playwright, with perfectly placed gags and tear-jerking moments alike. As you mentioned after the show, this play explores very uncomfortable themes, and makes you confront aspects of your psyche that very few would willingly admit to. How was it you described it, a psychologist’s dream…?
EM: Pretty much. I think what makes this play so confronting in many ways is that it plays on parts of our psyche that we would tend to ignore when going about our everyday lives. The mish-mash of experiences that form the breeding ground for Abalone and Gerture’s abnormal and borderline incestuous behaviours are relatively common I feel-- just perhaps not to the same degree as is displayed in The Eisteddfod?
DM: I agree with you there; very Freudian. Abusive family environments can bring out all sorts of unfortunate consequences. And man, were they brought to life by some quality acting. Watching Brendan Ewing as Abalone was like watching an embodiment of having “the talk” with your parents. His mannerisms were so uncomfortable it was difficult to tear your eyes away, which is to say he nailed his performance.
EM: And Natalie Homewood was absolutely splendid as Abalone’s submissive, long-suffering sister Gerture. Her acting shows such versatility; she is utterly believable whether ‘playing’ the make-believe role of the children’s mother or the psychologically stunted 30-something Gerture who believes she is a classroom teacher with a boyfriend named Ian.
DM: I thought the fantasies the two acted out brought about a really interesting dynamic in the script. The distinction between reality and fiction was blurred, and it allowed the play to explore some very uncomfortable topics with ease. Oh, yeah, it was very uncomfortable (I need a new word), but it never felt exploitative or indulgent; there was always a purpose to the squirmier sides of things.
EM: Absolutely. I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely Lally Katz just a couple of weeks ago and she really emphasised the fact that this play was the child of her own experiences- albeit given exaggerated shape at the hands of her imagination. I think you’d agree that this is play that is centred quite heavily around the ideas of youth and growing up, and the truthfulness that Lally conveys in the script really did resonate with us, don’t you think?
DM: For sure. Despite the elements of fantasy, the play always felt very grounded in real human emotions and experiences. There were plenty of moments for self-reflection.
EM: Jeffrey Jay Fowler-- what a gem. I thought his direction was absolutely spot-on in conveying the mood of this play, which is really quite a tricky thing to get right. It’s really quite a dark play underneath, though if you were to walk into the room for 20 seconds you might be fooled into thinking it’s a sugar-coated imaginative fairyland kind of play. Both sides were conveyed very well.
DM: It was very well balanced, I thought. The mix of humour (dark and light) and dramatic tension was perfect, and complimented by some stellar production. The set and costume design, lighting and sound (courtesy of Tyler Hill, Lucy Birkinshaw and Brett Smith, respectively) did wonders to drive each moment home, but never overshadowed the tour-de-force performances (rather accentuating them). Oh, and on a side note: try get seats AA13 and AA14 if possible for a little taste of Moscow. It’ll make sense later.
So, Eemali, final thoughts?
EM: Well you know me, queen of the blunt and uncomfortable and this play managed to rock me. I don’t think I’ve seen a play so imaginatively in-your-face as The Eisteddfod for a very long time. It’s the sort of play I feel you dare your friends to go and see to see if they survive the ‘weird’ better than you.
DM: You hit the nail on the head there. But still, I’d recommend it for almost anyone; there’s enough in this play for any mature person to sink their teeth into... Just maybe don’t go along to The Eisteddfod with your sweet old grandma.