US. - Theatre Review

WHAT: Us.
WHEN: 30 July - 7 August 2021
WHERE: Zoom
WRITTEN BY: Morgan Rose
 DIRECTED BY: Katrina Cornwell
DESIGN BY: Emily Collett
SOUND DESIGN BY: Justin Gardam
STAGE MANAGED BY: Jacinta Anderson
PERFORMED BY: Julia Chilcott, Samuel Gaskin, Noray Hosny, Ashanti Joy, Raelah Piata Lascelles, Jackson Reid, Paula Reid,  and Jessy Soliman
Ashanti Joy, Paula Reid, Noray Hosny and Jackson Reid

I always get excited when I see completely independent artists creating on similar themes at the same time. That is when I know there is a zeitgeist occurring. Having watched Us. and The Rapture: The Bathtub Edition within days of each other I know Melbourne is experiencing the zeitgeist of hope.

Hope is a curious creature. It fills us full of so many emotions: excitement, joy, fear, dread, uncertainty, wonder, curiosity... Our bodies course with adrenaline which keeps us alert for danger, but also gives us a shot of dopamine to give us the confidence to take risks. This is the underlying message of both tales.

St Martins Youth Arts Centre, under the incredibly talented eye of director Katrina Cornwell, have brought together the stories and talents of 5 modern families to invite us into their houses and their lives. They share stories of hope, stories of time, stories of change, stories of differences. Morgan Rose has then brought her amazing talents to the fore and woven them together - forwards and backwards across time immemorial - to tell us an epic saga. It is a tale of fear. It is a tale of love. It is a tale of connection. It is a tale of hope.

Us. begins at the dawn of life on earth with Ashanti Joy telling us the story of how a single lonely cell living in the dark suddenly divided and then there were two of them, and they weren't lonely anymore. Things get exciting and just a little bit frenetic until suddenly Julia Chilcott (her mum) knocks on the door complaining about the cat pooping in the sink. More about that later... 

Their conversation ends with Joy telling us her biggest life lesson so far - "You can't really know anything until you learn it." It is the perfect segue to Noray Hosny's house where she teaches Jessy Soliman, her mum, how to cut onions without crying. (I love the little life hacks you can learn through theatre sometimes). Hosny wants a cat but Soliman has a phobia about them. Through the simple act of preparing a meal, Hosny and Soliman tell us the story of the family deciding to migrate from Egypt a few years after the riots of 2010.

One of the very intriguing aspects of Us. is how they seamlessly blend the meta contexts with the micro. World politics blends with cutting an onion. The beginning of life on earth merges with cleaning up cat poop. The back up singer for Kids in The Kitchen (Paula Reid) sorts out her son's sock draw. We learn the story of the migration of the Maori people from Hawaii in 1320 whilst Sam Gaskin and Raelah Piata Lascelles play in a cubby house. 

Us. reminds us that every one of us - as ordinary and small as we might feel (especially in lockdowns) - is an important part of the history and future and story of the world. It reminds us too, that we need to keep our stories and the stories of the people around us alive so that we know where and when and who we are in our darkest and most alone moments.

Watching Us. shows just how far we have come with story making in Zoom as well. This show is probably the first on this platform, that I have seen, which did very complex theatre making without technical failure. I have to assume Justin Gardam has weaved this incredible magic. I just hope he shares the secrets with the rest of us!

The lighting was clever and innovative and all of the families seemed to have embraced various aspects of the technology challenges with creativity and a great sense of fun. Chilcott plays with 2 cameras as she and Joy recreate an experience at the same time as watching the recording of the real thing. In the Reid house Jackson plays the keyboard in his bedroom as his mum Paula sings belting renditions of 'Purple Rain' and 'When Dove's Cry' through a microphone surrounded by fairy lights in the hall. The sound was amazing and boy can she sing! 

Us. is an amazing production which creates a sense of belonging in all of us. Yes. We, the audience, are invited in and included in the stories of these families as we become the next 'after that' in a chain of events going back to the dawn of life on earth.  We are a part of the hope and all of the complexities the performing families have felt, and their families before them. We are subtly reminded that, as we look to our own futures, there will be fear, there will be the unknown, but there will be space and light and potential. All we need is the courage to hold on and keep moving forward...in time.

(Oh and there is some ridiculously cute cat videobombing at times too).

5 Stars

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