Judith Wright Centre & Company 2 supported by Flipside Circus
Judith Wright Centre Performance Space
April 6 – 9 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.
Sometimes the heart breaks and cracks open because so much love is bursting through.
– Ethan Wharton-Langridge
Kaleidoscope is a remarkable circus show that hopes to bring to life the colour, chaos and incredible beauty of Ethan’s everyday life.
– Chelsea McGuffin
“Everyday life is full of wonder. Even the lighting changing from white and plain to beautiful colour reflects the beauty of the little things that make Ethan’s life possibly better than our own… When the lighting reflects on the ceiling it’s like a dream…”
– Poppy Eponine
This show is pure love. It’s play and love and laughter, and kids supporting kids just by being with each other, near each other, adoring each other before judging each other. It’s a valuable reminder of so many things.
The kids are sleeping – or trying to sleep – tossing and turning, climbing over each other and resettling, and while we see them moving across the floor the live feed filmed from above creates an optical illusion, projected onto the scrim, turning the kids into scrambling superheroes with the power to leap and fly through the air. Their floor tower crumbles, and the boy at the highest point flaps his chicken wing arms to stay afloat above it all, before a new tower reforms and he takes his place at the top again.
The kids disperse and a phone rings. Ethan moves to pick up the handset of a Bakelite phone, although it takes a little while to get to it with the other performers in the way, and we enjoy lovely interactions as he finds a different way around each one before reading a monologue that answers many of our questions as the show begins: he sees the world differently, people see him differently; he leads a different life.
When Ethan was four years old he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (ASD). His mum, Johanna Wharton, wrote a book about his day-to-day life and this show brings to life Chelsea McGuffin’s imagining of those daily experiences.
…Ethan has been poked, prodded, analysed, attended three different schools. He is underweight, hearing impaired and has adult teeth arriving in all directions. Our household has been through screaming, squealing, squeezing, bouncing, obsessions, disappearances, sleepless years, diets, hospitals, surgeries and all things unexplainable and unidentifiable. But I do not want to tell those stories. Because between the lines is a little boy who is articulate, eccentric, expressive, engaging and brave.
Through his uniqueness he brings clarity to our complicated lives. He brings joy outside the limits of our routine and revelation that cannot be measured. Through his uniqueness he dispels our walls of safety. One day, I saw him mesmerized by the droplets of water dripping from the tap, and I decided to watch a droplet too… I was taken into his world…silent and magnified. Pure. It is the nature of something beautiful, wild, untamable, inspiring.
The show is a typically eclectic mix: balance acts, a pole act of strength and control to rival some adult performances, and an elegant aerial hoop routine set mysteriously in a corner of long white hanging pieces, which are pulled aside by the performers. Performers’ bodies become the floor for Ethan to walk across. The acts all involve Ethan to some extent. The kids clearly adore him.
This is an amazing ensemble of young circus performers, a tight-knit team who obviously care for one another, and take Ethan under their collective wing. That safe space feels expansive – it’s very hard to stay in our seats and resist running down to jump and play in a mass of feathers, the glorious result of a pillow fight! Pre-recorded footage plays across the scrim, gorgeous, joyous images of the performers pillow fighting and laughing and living in the moment.
As Ethan rides a stationary bicycle centrestage we watch more stunning images, this time a beautifully created paper collage streetscape. The edges of this part of the world are torn and nothing looks quite as perfect as we might imagine – or remember – it to be. The action in front is fast-paced and hilarious, but the imagery has a nostalgic feel. We don’t make the connection between the bicycle and the images until after the show, when McGuffin assures me she will find a way to feature the pedal-powered projector in a future production. The ensemble run and race and leapfrog and tumble to keep up with Ethan on his bike, and take turns to catch up and jump up and strike precarious poses before the segment abruptly comes to an end, as if the director has suddenly shouted, “CUT!”. The kids shrug and smile and move into their next positions.
I love the costumes, which are reversible: simple cotton frocks tied twice (at the back and front), which are flipped, turning the stark white into bright colours and bold patterns. After so much time spent in Ethan’s sphere, how could one not become this colourful?
But one girl wears a dress that is white on both sides – she’s confounded by the lack of colour when it comes time to reverse it – but it’s white for a purpose. We watch as she sits gingerly on the stool and plays the toy piano. It’s pink, and its cute plinks are the chords of the piece we’ve just heard in a musical routine involving a xylophone and eerie wine glasses. The kids paint her so that when she performs her aerial (tissue) act she leaves a rainbow on the fabric. The impact Ethan has on all their lives. The impact any child has on all our lives, but particularly of those who see the world as Ethan does, in tiny fragments of colour, magnified, magnificent.
Under the guidance of Chelsea McGuffin and David Carberry, Flipside and Company 2 have discovered a perfect match of energies, minds and hearts. Kaleidoscope is a heartfelt exploration of seemingly random tiny moments, which exist for all of us, but are noticed by few.
Final performances today at 2pm and 7:30pm.