Saturday, 28 April 2018

Personal - Theatre Review

What: Personal
When: 24 - 29 April 2018
Where: Arts House
Created and performed by: Jodee Mundy
Directed by: Merophie Carr
Design by: Jen Hector
Sound by: Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey
Video by: Rhian Hinkley

Jodee Mundy - photo by Bryony Jackson
The world is changing. Australia is changing. One of the great aspirations of our emerging NDIS is to evolve into a society which allows people with disability to live their lives as fully and independently as a human being. This means working and playing. This means dreaming and achieving. This means every space is a space for everybody. In Personal at Arts House Jodee Mundy shows us how to make the stage and audience spaces just such a world.

Whilst not having a disability herself, Mundy grew up as the only hearing person in a family of five. Even now, days later, I have trouble getting my head around the extraordinariness of growing up with parents and two brothers who can't hear. Mundy tells us she did not even realise/understand that the rest of her family was deaf until she was 5 years old. She was separated from her mother in KMart and despite the staff doing all the right things being reunited was a long and traumatic experience because (of course) her mother could not hear the announcements.

This was the light bulb moment for little Jodee and this is also the point when her life became something seriously other than normal - whatever that is - as she began to take on speaking and hearing duties for the family, especially on the telephone. It is not unusual for children who have disabled parents to grow up quicker than we would wish for them. In Mundy's case having to translate very adult conversations was very confusing and at times frightening.

Whilst Mundy doesn't dwell on this overly long, it becomes apparent as the performance progresses that there are scars. They are scars, though, which are smoothed and oiled by the intense love evident across the family.

Mundy does not allow us to linger on the painful moments which come with this oddly isolated childhood and she never wallows for a moment. Conversely she is a talented humourist and mime and I found myself laughing out loud a surprising amount of times as Mundy let us into the absurdity of her world. It is important to say we got to laugh with her, not at her.

Hinkley has created some fantastic animations as we explore nightmares which have a touch of Where The Wild Things Are about them, and there is even a little bit of Family Guy going on at one point. The video sequences are projected on 6 large boxes which Mundy moves around the stage. The images were sometimes separate and sometimes integrated, and often at unexpected angles and places. I enjoyed the Brady Bunch tribute which was one of the most beautiful moments - a moment when Mundy serenaded her family. I wanted to look around and find the projector set up to understand how it was being done, but I couldn't bare to tear my eyes away from the stage which is a testament to how good the performance was.

Another intriguing aspect of this show was it's dual language structure. I was especially excited to see that it was the Auslan which was privileged. One of Mundy's expressed intentions as an artist is to use 'art to redefine and skew the notions of inclusiveness' and to look for a future 'beyond inclusion'. The academics will probably call the next era Post-Inclusion.

In Personal Mundy succeeds beautifully. It is us, the hearing audience who have essentially been invited into a Deaf space and whilst it is fully inclusive, it is a shared space where we are not privileged.

It is also a sharing space but not a voyueristic one. The program refers to people's voyeuristic apetite to delve into how the deaf live their lives, and whilst Mundy gives a nod and some answers she sets boundaries. We catch glimpses of other people but Mundy stops at being too explicit and is careful to tell her story and not the story of those around her. It is her Personal story.

There absolutely is sound throughout the show and Flynn and Humphrey have created a complex soundscape. Mundy allow us to hear it and plays with sound all the way through, but what is really revealed is how sound is received. For deaf people sound is mostly experienced through the eyes or through physical sensation such as the low bass beat of techno, or using lights to indicate a ringing doorbell, etc. It is touch and sight and in some ways this makes sound bigger. As a live sound technician I used to always imagine the waves bouncing around the room. For deaf people it really does.

At this point I need to confess on the night I went there were some serious technical problems with the sound and video. It was not enough to make me unsatisfied with my evening and I still enjoyed the show immensely and laughed a lot, but it is enough to make me envious of those who will see/hear the complete show.

I also found the moving of boxes became tedious in the extreme. I understand it and, let's face it, every show which uses boxes ends up moving them around far too much. It is just the nature of the beast I suppose.

Told in a picaresque style and with a bathetic narrative, Personal will not give you every answer you ever wanted about what it is to be a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). What it does is give you insight into one person's story whilst highlighting some universal issues, experiences, and prejudices. It is funny, sad, scary, and beautiful. It is also another brilliant example of post-truth theatre and post-inclusion theatre. The future is here and it is Personal.

4 Stars

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