11
Apr
16

When One Door Closes

 

When One Door Closes

La Boite Theatre Company & Circa

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

April 6 – 23 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

breathing. running. pink hair swishing. resting. gasping. pink hair running. falling, clumsily. bewildered. resting, but not. unsettled, but not. unwilling. undone. unfinished.

and then the men…

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It’s Nora Helmer (Britannie Portelli), in sweet pink, hot pink and sparkling, sequinned pink. Pretty, and unpredictable, in pink. One day she decides not to settle for less and she’s gone. In unapologetic orange, Hedda Gabler (Bridie Hooper). In bold red that belies every moment of “hysteria”, every insecurity, Miss Julie (Nicole Faubert). Unless you’re well acquainted with the women, or even if you’re well acquainted with the women, these three are any women. Every woman. Everywoman.

Late in the 19th Century they burst on stage and quite literally changed the world. Their presence called into question assumptions about women and their role in male dominated society.

They were of course written by men. They live within the conventions of the well-made play. In a sense they are trying to escape their forms as well as their men.

The circus we make is definitely not a well-made play. Rather it is abstract, shifting, elusive. Meaning occurs for sure but exactly where or how are mysterious.

– Directors, Yaron Lifschitz & Libby McDonnell

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The problem with abstract, shifting, elusive forms is that we are often left dissatisfied by the lack (or mysterious placement) of dramatic meaning, but the real problem here – if we are to discuss openly and honestly (and we do that here) – is that the product doesn’t match up to the sales pitch. It’s not what I expected. And that’s okay but I’m left feeling slightly confused because the production doesn’t do what I thought it said it would. I think I thought wrong… To be fair, the only claim was that the women would meet in a “visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.” And they do.

A door slams. A shot is fired. On the other side, unseen by the audience or by the befuddled, inconsequential husband and lovers are the three great heroines who created twentieth century drama: Miss Julie, Hedda Gabler and Nora.

What if they all ended up in the same room?

What if they couldn’t speak?

What if the room was full of scratched recordings of A Dolls House, Hedda Gabbler and Miss Julie, plus a dash of Freud?

How would they navigate each other, their own pasts and the future?

La Boite and Circa join forces on this new creation. Three masterpieces of turn-of-the-century drama meet the visceral force of extreme acrobatic theatre.

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 Circa is one of our country’s most highly regarded contemporary circus companies and at first glance, in this first stage of development (it’s officially a finished product but what is ever really finished?), this work is not nearly as exceptional as we have come to expect from Circa (they raised the bar with Il Retorno), however; presented by La Boite, When One Door Closes is also an experiment, relating the stories of the women – or, their frustrations at least – via varying levels of tension and court jester comedy, through acrobatics and high-risk tricks, some of which are symbolic of what the characters are going through.

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Not always the case, at times the tricks are arbitrary, included in the show because they can be, and executed in such a literal way as to bring out the comical, as when one of the men tips Nora upside down so that she becomes a broom, her hair used to sweep the stage. It’s a strange way to reiterate what we already know; these women exist in service roles only. No wonder they feel as if they’re choking, hanging, dead…

Oonagh Sherrard’s original compositions lead us in and out of the women’s heads, while at times, it’s odd; the men get comical musical numbers to lip-synch for seemingly no reason other than to provide the girls with a drinks break and the audience with an easy laugh. The collective physical strength and sheer force of the men’s presence underlines the power that men have held within each of these women’s lives. Perhaps the David Armand inspired parodies are an attempt to truly balance the stakes. (I love that the women claim their power, hand-balancing in the end, but I hate the male playwrights using “sickness” and suicide and the abhorrent act of leaving the children to do so).

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Hedda has the strongest presence, her chalk outline creating a devastating, enduring image, as she contorts herself to reach all the way around her body. She marks her own end on the glossy black floor. This routine, and the most arresting, disturbing straps routine I’ve ever seen (that’s a good thing; it’s brilliantly conceived and executed), keep Hedda at the centre of the story-not-story, and for me, provide the strongest thread, that is, if we are determined to see one running through the piece.

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If I’d decided not to write it up, I would have viewed When One Door Closes through a completely different lens, enjoying much more than I did on Opening Night, its circus and its comedy, and not needing any further structure or story. But because, perhaps foolishly, we went in with the expectation that this would be circus that was somehow more “theatrical” in its form and nature, my expectations weren’t met. To put it simply, I would have left feeling more satisfied if I hadn’t had to think too deeply about it! This is often a critic’s struggle, and not something general audiences will experience. It’s important to note because my opinion is no more valid than anybody else’s, but because I choose to share it widely I (mostly) feel the need to justify my conclusions. There are times when I simply respond to the work, without looking at it very critically at all, and this style of “review” could be said to be far more valuable to both audiences and artists. In fact, by not discussing the way the different elements work together, we indicate perhaps even more clearly the success of a piece. (Don’t tell that to the Drama students who must master the art of academically arranging their thoughts and assessing the way in which a director has created meaning by manipulating the Elements of Drama).

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Regardless of the reviewer’s style (and we follow those whose style we like, and whose opinions confirm our bias), a considered written response is always a valuable addition to the conversation. A star rating not so much, but easier, certainly, for publicists to use…

It could be reasonably assumed that because this is a circus show it can be sold under a family friendly banner, but I’d advise parents to consider the meaning that (mysteriously) comes across and ask yourself whether or not your child will question, as my child has done, “Which is the husband and which is the lover?” “Does the chalk outline mean she’s already dead or that she’s dead inside?” and “Are the straps the rope she hangs herself with?” And in response to my whisper, “Well, why does she have a straps routine if she shoots herself?”

If you bring children to the theatre, be prepared to discuss the themes and historical contexts of the original texts as well as those within the final work. Always.

(Or, everyone can simply enjoy the sequins and lifts and balances for what they are and avoid talking about anything else).

Circa is more successful than most in its exploration of blurring lines between forms. And with greater theatrical input (Todd MacDonald as Co-Director – or Director – rather than, or in addition to Dramaturg, for example), When One Door Closes might make more creative and contextual sense. Let’s look forward to the company continuing to experiment with form and style.

Without thinking too deeply about it, or expecting too much from it, the first production of La Boite’s 2016 season is perfectly engaging and entertaining. But let’s hope it’s not indicative of all they have to offer this year.

Performers: Nathan Boyle, Todd Kirby, Martin Evans, Duncan West, Nicole Faubert, Bridie Hooper, Brittany Portelli.

Production pics by Dylan Evans

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