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Cut Snake

Photo by John Feely

Arthur and Tamarama Rock Surfers presents CUT SNAKE by Amelia Evans, Dan Giovannoni and Paige Rattray at the Bondi Pavilion, Bondi Beach.

CUT SNAKE comes from a team of three writers: Amelia Evans (LYREBIRD), Dan Giovannoni (WRECKING) and Paige Rattray. Ms Rattray directs Julia Billington (Bob), Charlie Davies (Kiki Corriander) and Kevin Kiernan-Molloy (Jumper).

Entering through a tunnel of hung squares of varying patterns and variegated colours of fabrics, sewn together, tent like, festooned with little flags and other electrical bunting, the usual big space of the Bondi Pavilion has been curtained into a smaller focused auditorium, bedazzling, distracting, though it is. The stage floor is a fake green lawn and edged with lots of lamp shades of differing size, colour and stand shapes – some even hung from the roof, upside down. Tom Hogan is the visible operator of Sound and lighting cues (Lighting Design by Ross Graham) and he sits down and we begin. (Production Design, Paige Rattray.)

The company of actors are on stage already, the lights dim and in a very contemporary style of circus skills, burlesque, dance, semaphored character movement and text, we are taken on the journey of the three intertwined stories of Jumper, Kiki Corriander and Bob. We are taken back and forth in time and bounced between one story and the others. Some of it has the ease of naturalistic exposition and narrative (a tragic bus crash in Croatia), some of it spills into magic-realism (we meet a delightfully wicked talking snake called Tricks, and, later, see a horse and hippopotamus wrestle it out!) and voyages into time co-incidence, other exaggerations (!) and cups of whimsical sentimentality – it is a wild romantic journey for kids and adults who prefer, still, to be kids – the Peter Pan’s in us.

Ms Rattray has a feel for the dynamics of movement as a very active part of the storytelling – there has been intimations of this passion in other of her work – OUT OF PLACE, THE SEA PROJECT – and the necessity of the writing had restrained her. So, this devised work, led by her, is the first where she has been able to give full vent to that leaning. The actors are almost always in physical movement, and it is not ‘quiet’ movement, but, highly dynamic offers, while, at the same time, the actors speak the narrative. It is a very busy visual and verbal cacophony and often the two efforts of the body and the voice are in competition for primary attention, and are not always in clarifying harmony – they fight and clash for supremacy, for our attention.

One has to learn to focus on the speaker and block out the movement/dance of the team, or, one risks been left way behind in the story following sensibility. This is what I had to do to get my story bearings – so much was going on. In the last story, of Bob’s, either the choreography had got subtler, or I had found a way of focusing my eyes and ears together (or, Ms Billington was expert?), and I found myself comprehending, untangled from competing methods, and was appreciative of the complications of the magical story – Bob’s story is, unfortunately, in the last section!!!!- it took some time to train myself.

The first responsibility of the actor, and director, designer, I have been taught, is to make sure the words of the writer can be heard with clarity, by all. The physical action ought to clarify the vocal action. Gosh, it is one of the primacy’s given by Hamlet to the Player King in Shakespeare’s play – “…suit the action to the word, the word to the action …” (Act III Sc II). If the physical action does not assist that clarity, editing is the solution, I suspect. The very best exemplar of this difficult task, when physicality is so densely employed with text, is that of Lloyd Newson’s works: CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS? and TO BE STRAIGHT WITH YOU for DV8.

This company of actors are breathtakingly exciting in fulfilling the demands of Ms Rattray’s direction and the best reason to get to the Bondi Pavilion. Costumed in the stylisations of circus/burlesque, the physical skills are spectacular and the disciplines, both, as individuals, and a team are astonishing. Ms Davies certainly has the acrobatic flexibility to amaze us in this small space, her whole instrument tuned for comic effect – loved the eye movement choreography!; Mr Kiernan-Molloy, last seen in PSYCHO BEACH PARTY, seems the most at ease with the balance of physical and vocal demands, both sexy and comically real, while Ms Billington, slightly less physically agile, than the others, creates the most believable and winning set of characters – her swiftness in changing from one incarnation to another, her focused energy concentrations, and, particularly the gloriously funny inner monologues and character debates, are mesmerizing. ‘Tricks’ is a comic delight, but, ‘Bob’ is a humanised treasure.

CUT SNAKE, is a bit of a dazzling challenge at first, for an audience, to find the way into the storytelling, and the catch up needs to be committed to, quickly, but, if you work hard, it is, ultimately, worth the effort. More judicious physical action trimming and this maybe more than a dynamic physical rush of undeniable energy, pumping the audience’s adrenalin up an up to a blushing heart rate of effusive appreciation.

P.S. Tamarama Rock Surfers kept up the tiresome tradition of beginning much, much later than the advertised time – it is an unfortunate, if not, uncouth habit, in my experience, in the theatre. Nothing can be more aggravating for an audience – especially those with family at home responsibilities. One’s mood could be affected, sometimes to the detriment to the performance’s reception – we all need to prepare, the actor’s and audience are a team – mood harmony an important ingredient.