October 17, 2017

Ambitious drama of a family in crisis offers a moving experience

by Isthisyours ?
Presented by Insite Arts and Adelaide Festival Centre.
Her Majesty’s Theatre.
October 14.
Tickets: $25-$37. Bookings : 131 246 or online.
Duration: 1hour 50 minutes no interval.
Until October 21.

The five women who comprise Adelaide company isthisyours ? have been making their particular brand of impish, culturally savvy theatre for almost ten years. But for their latest venture, Angelique, they are not in a makeshift Fringe venue, they have the full proscenium arch of Her Majesty’s to play with.

The audience enters the auditorium to find a letter hanging from a long red ribbon. An usher directs the closest patron to read its contents. “Think about why you are here/You imagine you are one thing/ but really you are something else.”

The red stage curtains open on a domestic scene. Designed by the inventive Jonathan Oxlade, it features his signature 70’s motifs, in this case : apricot velvet drapes and a large gold mirror for ironic reflection. Angelique (the excellent Jude Henshall) is sixteen, in her school uniform writing in her diary, her mother, Carole (Anna Steen) is reading a self help book, and her father, George (Louisa Mignone, transformed by the stroke of a large moustache) is chiding them for their lack of purpose.

The family is in crisis. Angelique’s sister Evelyn has gone missing, whereabouts unknown. Her absence is an unmentionable presence. The scene, which also includes the appearance of a chattering ringneck parrot, is like a something from Ionesco – comic, fraught, and seriously absurd. There are shades of Monty Python also, especially when Birdy (Ellen Steele) becomes a full size spectre – a dead parrot, an ex-parrot, no less.

The narrative becomes a series of situations in which Angelique questions the way her parents, her friends, and she herself, choose to ignore what is really happening, turning a blind eye from the bleeding obvious- her father’s cruelty, her mother’s grief at the loss of a daughter, and the pressures from school and peers to select an acceptable persona rather than her true self.

As if to give multiple perspectives to these questions, the audience is moved by ushers to various parts of the theatre – the backstage wings, the corridors to the dressing rooms, up fire escapes and on to the mainstage watching the actors performing in the stalls and dress circle.

Alice Keath’s music, a mix of chamber and techno, is a highpoint as is the lighting by Chris Petridis. But the group-devised text written in collaboration with Duncan Graham, is uneven and sometimes cryptic. Directed by Tessa Leong, Angelique is an intriguing but, at times, over-ambitious venture weighed down by its logistics.

That said, it is asking pertinent questions about identity and truth to the self. Angelique is funny, disturbing, and its epilogue is a dark warning. Isthisyours? turns the theatre upside down to ask these questions – and we would do well to think carefully about them.

“Ambitious drama of a family in crisis offers a moving experience”
The Australian, October 17, 2017, p.14.

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