Monday, 21 November 2016

Animal, Nov 18, 2016 ***1/2

Created by Susie Dee, Kate Sherman & Nicci Wilkes, by inFlux

Theatre Works, until Nov 27, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Mon Nov 21, 2016 and later in print. KH
Kate Sherman & Nicci Wilkes
In a wordless, soundless, violent world, two girls struggle to survive the horrors of their circumstances.

Animal, a confronting piece of physical theatre created by director, Susie Dee, with performers, Nicci Wilkes and Kate Sherman, investigates through movement the violence perpetrated against women.

The performance is intensely visceral and has no spoken dialogue, although words and phrases appear projected on a rear screen and the wild appearance and violent actions of the two actors speak volumes.

Although a brief, opening video of a farmhouse suggests that the two girls live in an isolated, rural location, the show has no linear narrative but uses a visually compelling, abstract style that is precisely choreographed, although its obtuseness sometimes leaves the intention of the piece unclear.

Wilkes and Sherman appear to be young sisters, dressed in filthy, old-fashioned and childish dresses that they swap as if their identities are mutable and transferable.

They are trapped inside a dim, grey, prison-like warehouse (Designed by Marg Horwell) where they climb and crawl like animals over stacked packing crates and a floor littered with debris.

Their urgent actions teeter on the edge of rough play and outright violence as they run in circles, chasing and being chased, one moment being the pursuer and the next the pursued.

They communicate through fear and frenetic movement, blindfold each other, taunt and tease, punch each other mercilessly or harm themselves, wrestle playfully or attack like dogs biting, rolling and tearing at each other.

One strangely moving element is that the girls express very little emotion, except when they are separated when panic and fear kick in, and their tough composure collapses.

In a poignant, repeated scene, the girls perform a coy, girlish dance duet in which they lift their skirts to reveal their over-sized, un-sexy panties; a dance that we fear is performed for a predatory man whose presence threatens then constantly.

The most disturbing scenes are those in which the girls transform their dance into a provocative, sexualised, adult stripper’s routine that leads to what we can only assume to be rape.

Although their communication is wordless, over-sized projections of phrases comment cryptically on their predicament: ‘Born in this skin’ and ‘Mercy be upon this breath.’ (Projected words by Angus Cerini.)

Interrupting their silence is an intermittent, frightening roaring (Soundscape by Kelly Ryall) that sounds like huge trucks passing on a highway and leaves the audience’s nerves jangled.

The frenetic and chaotic activity escalates throughout the 50-minute show, but the final, triumphant scene – one that suggests freedom and overcoming adversity – seems disconnected from the direction of the preceding violence and makes an unsatisfying ending.

Animal is an accomplished and fearless piece that employs primal physicality and distressing imagery to raise issues about violence against women.

By Kate Herbert

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