October 12, 2016

Captivating stories from ordinary folk at the edge

Life is Short and Long
by Emma Beech
Presented by Vitalstatistix and Country Arts SA
Waterside, Port Adelaide
October 12. Tickets : $20 – $30. Bookings:
Until October 21. Duration 90 minutes, no interval.
October 28-29 Wirrabara Town Hall.

Emma Beech is very interested in what happens to us when things don’t work out as expected – often, when they go bung. Her shrewdly incisive 2013 solo show, Homage to Uncertainty, looked sardonically (and kindly) at the way people, including family and others close to her, dealt with tribulation and setbacks.  Now, her latest work, Life is Short and Long, examines the long and the short of crisis situations, what they teach us and, perhaps, how they make us strong.

Beech is akin to a market researcher or a sociologist. And people like to talk to her. Her gift is to collect and select vox pops and random comments and weave them into a narrative which is both entertaining and illuminating. Life is Short and Long gathers disparate stories, impressions, and witness accounts from visits to Barcelona during the 2007 GFC crisis, to Wirrabara in the Mid North of South Australia after the destructive Bangor Forest bushfires in 2014, and more locally,  Port Adelaide, a once thriving maritime centre still looking for post-industrial re-invention.

Beech has transformed the stage at Vitalstatistix’s  Waterside theatre, requiring the audience to enter through a spiny forest of lanky PVC pipes (designed and lit  by Meg Wilson and Michelle Maddog Delaney) into a seating area festooned with coloured party lights. She enters wearing a spangled, maroon evening gown and recounts, with appropriate inflections, a conversation about places to eat in Barcelona, then shifts, in accent and locale, to an Australian woman  surrounded by ferocious bushfires in Wirrabara.

Port Adelaide is introduced, with lists of factoids (recited by her occasional stage associate Tim Overton) as well as vignettes from locals, especially recurring recollections from Jim, a hairdresser who started a lucrative salon in the mid-1960s and literally drank away a fortune at the local hotel.

Beech is a captivating storyteller; this is the theatre that conceals theatre. Her effortless, understated delivery is carefully, conspiratorially cadenced and her choice of detail is vivid, funny, and sometimes startlingly brief – as when she describes her anxious wait to give birth to premature triplets, or a woman sleepless during  a bushfire receiving crank phone calls.

Many voices feature in Life is Short and Long but it is Marga, a Catalan Spanish theatre maker with whom Beech collaborated, whose presence is most palpable. She encouraged Beech to write this work and it is her vivacious protest about the GFC, concern for the prospects of her unborn child in a turbulent world and defiant hope for the future which emboldens this production. With co-director Tessa Leong, Emma Beech has created a modest, intimate work but it has a quiet ambition and scope that is exhilarating.

Murray Bramwell

“Captivating stories from ordinary folk at the edge”, The Australian, October 14, 2016, p.15.

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