Review: Death Throes is Beautifully Staged but Difficult to Parse
Death Throes is an interesting arthouse theatre performance that is far weirder than anything I have witnessed. The presentation is generally stunning, with clever lighting, enthralling music and timely sound effects. Despite this, I found the exceptionally abstract scenes were far too ambiguous for my tastes.
The production’s first scene begins promisingly. All three characters are attending a convention as panellists to verbalise their thoughts on modern life. The panellists haphazardly point out a number of flaws with modern society, particularly around money and the economy. This discussion is sporadic, jumping between important topics and seemingly irrelevant personal anecdotes. This appears to be a clever commentary about how these topics are often discussed by interested parties that are not really experts on the subject matter. There are ingenious little moments of comedy sprinkled throughout the play as well. For instance, while highlighting the problems with a consumeristic lifestyle, one panellist interjects to tell the audience that their t-shirts are on sale after the show. I got another chuckle following the show when I stepped out of the theatre and found these shirts, with tag-lines like “post-truth baby” were actually for sale. Only then did I realise the performer broke the fourth wall. Very cool.
Following this, it got weird. Really weird. The performers literally run around in circles for what seemed twenty minutes before they then switch to running into each other and the walls. I couldn’t figure out what this was meant to represent. The rat race that goes nowhere, perhaps. Regardless, I struggled keep myself engaged with the sequence. To their credit, performers Harriet Gillies, Joe Lui and Julia Croft worked very hard in this scene. They exhausted themselves so much that they needed to change out of sweaty clothes. They did this on stage, which certainly snapped me back from boredom. Following the transformation, other scenes see them ritualistically burning something, perhaps symbolising the destruction of modern society, and then euphorically flying in the clouds, perhaps the after effect of said destruction. Confused yet? Me too. Regarding message, the best I could conclude is that society is flawed, so let’s burn it to the ground and everything will be better. This seems an overly abstract way of communicating this.
Operator Chelsea Gibson and producer Samantha Nerida did a great job overall. Reality is distorted cleverly with voice-altering sound effects. The music timing and selection is spot on, sending heart rates escalating and then calming as the scenes required. Lighting in particular is expertly used throughout the production to provide ambience and spectacle, though I could have done without the section where the performers pointed the lights at the audience, leaving me temporarily without sight.
It’s not often I would say I enjoyed the music, sound effects and lighting of a show, whilst also admiring the exhaustive effort of the performers, and yet walked away with middling feelings. I couldn’t get past the “abstract for the sake of being abstract” message and the monotonous running scene. Worth seeing if you are looking to be challenged over arthouse or innovative theatre productions. If you prefer a more coherent narrative though, this may not be the play for you.
2.5 stars out of 5