Little boxes of brilliance

Little Boxes (Jenna&Alex)

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

It is easy to see how Malvina Reynolds’ 1962 political satire song about the development of suburbia and associated conformist middle-class attitudes, inspired Jenna&Alex’s peculiar outdoor show of the same name. And it is easy to see, also, why so many people were braving the cold night air to attend its performance; word had obviously spread about show’s brilliance.

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“Little Boxes” comments on how individuals can feel separated from, but are inevitably connected to, their community. The story explores the insecurities and oddities inherent in individuality, as audience members voyeuristically peek inside a ring of cramped flats and at the self-imposed misery of their isolated inhabitants who are living their lies in quiet desperation. The show is performed in a 360° set so that the amphitheatered audience is simultaneously surrounded by the seven stories and thus able to appreciate how the action flows from one scene (and one little box) to the next. The set is simply superb: the beautiful design is visually ravishing and provides the perfect framework from which to present the show’s kaleidoscope of larger-than-life characters, allowing audiences to engage more, in order to be rewarded more.

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There is a carnival like aspect to the show’s detailed aesthetics, including Ben Hughes’ lighting design and musical wizardry of Richard Grantham. This is also particularly seen through the old-school vaudevillian motifs of strongman (Kristian Santic) and conjoined twins (Mercedes Porter and Cassie Kowitz). Ultimately, however, it the secretly fabulous Patrick Dwyer’s drag-queened performance of Petula Clarke’s ‘Downtown’ that is the show’s absolute highlight.  The vulnerability of many of the individual performances is sometimes harrowing, despite the absence of any dialogue, as performers cleverly use physical theatre and circus elements to depict their characters’ idiosyncratic personalities.

In both its conception and execution, “Little Boxes” is an unconventional, yet brilliant realisation of the imaginative possibilities of theatre. The committed characterisations and surrealist set combine to create a powerful and compelling performance that will linger in your thoughts for days after. It is a show that not only has to be seen, but needs to be thought about.

You can find all of my Anywhere Theatre Festival reviews on the Festival website.

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