Matthew James French and Madison Kennedy-Tucker
By Lally Katz
Director – Heidi Manché
Presented by Room to Play and Metro Arts
Sue Benner Theatre
Season: until Saturday, 24 March. Bookings www.metroarts.com.au/events/the-eisteddfod/
Testing the subconscious and pushing one’s boundaries to the extreme, The Eisteddfod is making waves on the theatrical scene.
A play that elaborates on the things that can hurt you and those that you wish didn’t, it teases with illusions and trials actuality to target an individual’s resolve.
The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz, is a contemporary Australian work riddled with an absurdist context. The play follows the story of two orphaned siblings - Abalone (played by Matthew James French) and Gerture (played by Madison Kennedy-Tucker) - and their battles with anxiety after their parent’s death. The children, concealed in a shared bedroom, develop a dysfunctional world of fantasy, games and desires. Their isolation is the play and their angst becomes the art. The audience is then invited to peek behind closed doors and indulge in a world of make-believe.
With the imaginary however, comes reality, and ideas of hope are perforated with stories that are quite unpleasant; reporting instances of abuse, rape, depression and suicide. The children, who are contrasting in nature, act out perverse experiences from the past to present. It’s shocking and confusing, as well as confronting and boundary-pushing. The Eisteddfod is a play that can evoke all kinds of thought; however it risks leaving an audience with mixed feelings.
As a production and ensemble, Room to Play’s work is sharp, polished and engaging. Scenes are prone to making patrons shift uncomfortably in their seats - a nod to the commitment of all on stage and during the creative process.
Director, Heidi Manché, utilises the space with conviction. The actors are pushed to their limits to create a dark and comical fantasy that is relevant to current political and societal issues. Heidi has orchestrated action that superbly bounces around the stage and justifies her choices in movement by a character’s intent – it’s quite hypnotic to watch.
The two-hander is brought to life by fearless and talented actors. As their intense and repressed characters, Madison and Matthew take the audience on a painful and uncomfortable journey. They shift seamlessly through each scene and give a complete physical and mental performance. As they traverse each storyline and dance along the line of delusion, it is left to the audiences own determination to decide what is real and what is not.
The sound, designed byAmy Holley, and lighting by David Walters and the set were all thought out extensively and operated efficiently. Kudos should be given to the paper filled back wall that rippled across the back of the stage. It alluded to a notion of story-telling and was wonderfully symbolic in the grand scheme of things.
With so many elements that work for this production, it’s unfortunate that the content leaves one feeling neither here nor there. The production has certain entertainment potential, but the absurdist construct can really lose focus if an audience is not on board from the start. Despite this, the amazing benefit of theatre is that one can take away anything from a performance, and there is enough in The Eisteddfod to fulfil that task.