Shadows of Love: A Triptych (The Curators)
October 15 – November 6
“Shadows of Love: A Triptych”, as its suffix suggests, is a cohesive collection of three short works exploring the undercurrent emotions of relationships when love goes wrong. It’s a theme evident from the outset in consideration of the as-always impressive aesthetics, a collection of gendered artifacts curated together by Michael Beh. Childlike dolls, tea sets, dresses and shawls hang in jumble from the rafters of Milton’s Christ Church, all white in evocation of the essential innocence, or otherwise, that is to be contemplated across the works.
The first and lengthiest presentation occupies the entirety of Act One. Resentment, revenge and retreat are all heightened from the outset of John Romeril’s 1971 work “Mrs Thally F”, we are taken through the one act song and dance of 25-year-old Yvonne’s (Sherri Smith) life, literally. From ‘Lollipop’ to ‘Reet Petite”, music defines her once belle of the ball life and desire to dance, and we delight in seeing the ‘50s numbers (with crisp vocals from chanteuse Chelsea Burton) and snippets thereof played out on stage in energetic tell of the double murderess’ story. Sweet as candy she isn’t, but she’s got what it takes but a lack of luck in the husband department. That’s life for you, again quite literally given that her story is that of an actual Sydney prisoner.
After an excitable introduction, things settle into Yvonne’s narrative. What stands out most then is the work’s ingenious staging. Most obviously we see our protagonist interacting with a rag doll husband or two, cleverly manipulated and voiced by fellow performers. Lisa Hockey’s direction is lively and clever staging is seen, even down to its scant set pieces with, for example, am unsecured tabletop allowing re-appropriation of the furniture parts for a variety of prop uses. Every possible avenue for creativity is explored in tell of her longing beyond the veneer of her taken-care-of life.
Smith makes for a flighty Yvonne, intent on the best from her bad deal, with a little urging from her mother (Bronwyn Nayler). Vivienne Whittle is also of particular note as the sister of Yvonne’s second husband, in execution of the exaggerated dramatic style that elevates the work to a stylised and engaging realisation, working well also with Julie Berr in puppetry of Yvonne’s ill-fated husbands, and assumption of additional minor roles like nosy neighbours etc.
After interval we are taken to the isolated farmhouse location of a murder, “In Cold Blood” gothic style (but less graphic and Australianised) without evidence or in this case a clear motive. “Trifles”, adapted from U.S. playwright Susan Glaspell’s 1916 work of the same name is similarly based on a true story. Although it is ultimately left to the audience to piece events and motivation together, this determination is supported by Helen Strube’s direction and the performances, not so much of the distracted Minnie (Bronwyn Naylor) who calmly sits alone in a memory world while the local policeman (James Kable) checks the house for clues, barely speaking for the most part though constantly engaged in her creation of paper birds, but rather the conversations, discoveries and reflections upon Minnie’s change that come courtesy of neighbours Mrs Peters (Caroline Sparrow) and especially Mrs Hale (an impressive Eleonora Gianardi), who have been tasked with gathering Minnie’s apron and alike to take to her in jail.
Though there are no signs of anger, sound (design by Erin O’Shea) lighting (design Nathaniel Knight) and staging combine to serve as a guide with soundscape feature of songbird calls and birdcages appearing as metaphoric motif of Minnie’s lonely pre-scene experiences. It’s a simple and powerful piece, perfectly timed to execute, but not dwell upon, its commentary beyond suggestion that sometimes things maybe just don’t add up.
Finally, there is “The Stronger” by Swede August Strindberg, wonderfully directed by Helen Strube, which brings us the story of a betrayed, distrustful wife Isabella (Lisa Hickey) confronting her husband John’s long-time mistress (Caroline Sparrow). Again, we see some clever staging tricks as a pair of slippers becomes the mouthpiece of the story’s insensitive unseen husband. And although it is short, the piece showcases the rich, vintage costumes (design by Michael Beh) that by so often feature in The Curators’ shows.
Kudos to Sparrow also for her conveyance of character thought and emotion in reaction when sitting still and silent being essentially monologued at for most of the tension-filled scene without offering a verbal response until late in proceedings. And when she does, in adaptation addition to what is normally a dramatic monologue piece, it is with such conviction as to appear as if a resounding manifesto of sorts and gender battle cry to unite in agency and defiance of definition according to a man or maybe just ponder of why fools fall in love.
Avant-garde provocation is what fringe festival shows are all about, which makes “Shadows of Love: A Triptych” an excellent and very entertaining choice for Fringe Brisbane audiences… not to mention a value for money one, especially given its 3 work, 2 hour + duration. The ‘50s theme might even have you bopping about into the night despite the darker tones on display in each woman’s story, discovery and drama.