IN THE HOUSE OF THE SUN - Theatre Review
WHAT: In The House Of The Sun
WHEN: 18 - 22 October 2022
WHERE: Queen Victoria Women's Centre
WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY: Rebecca Perich
DIRECTED BY: Margaret Mills
CHOREOGRAPHED BY: Jessica MacCallum Cruz
I thought I knew a lot about Greek mythology. I have read both the Illiad and the Odyssey. I have read or seen most of the major Ancient Greek plays still trotting around the globe. I studied Antigone and have written Athena. I know how choruses and masks work. I am an educated woman with a solid grounding in the literary classics. Or so I thought. Watching In The House Of The Sun last night I came to realise I know nothing. I know the words on all the pieces of paper but as is true of all Western history, I only know the stories as told by men.
Inspired by Jennifer Saint's Ariadne, Rebecca Perich has decided to present a dance theatre (tanztheatre) experience of what life would have been like for Ariadne and all that she witnessed and experienced. What she has created is a remarkably visceral retelling which gently steamrolls from sweetness, to saccharine, to shit.
We meet Ariadne at around 15 years old. By then her mother has become something remote and ineffective through the abuse of her father King Minos. This was revenge for her affair with the bull and the birth of her first child - the creature we all know as the Minotaur. Ariadne dances around the palace and tells bedtime stories to her little sister, Phaedra. In sweet, gentle tones Ariadne soothes her with horrifying tales of how her brother was locked away and trained to eat flesh and drink blood...
Music is an experience which elicits emotion directly to the brain/body. Dance is the expression of that emotion directly from the brain/body. Perich's gentle, lyrical voice is belied by the agonising paroxysms of her body in powerful dance interludes. Jessica MacCallum Cruz's choreography gets to the core of the subtext and shows us what is really going on for Ariadne. I only wish there had been more of it.
Ariadne blooms into her womanly awareness with the arrival of Theseus and thus her women's journey begins with all the excitement, wonder, lust, pain and betrayal we all must endure. Her maidenhead is taken, her wishes are ignored, and her hopes and dreams are dashed. We all know how the story ends. Ariadne is abandoned on the isle of Nexos and there her story ends.
What sets In the House Of The Sun out of the ordinary is Perich's superior grasp of form and content. The narrative is cleverly constructed. I don't know if Perich follows Homer's dactylic hexameter faithfully, but she definitely slips in and out of an epic poetic structure across the story telling which is as powerful as the dance interludes.
Margaret Mills (director) has crafted the use of the space and lighting masterfully. This could easily be a show with a small woman drowning in a large room with a few basic lights. Sometimes, though, you don't need more than a half dozen lights to have huge impact if you have timing and tempo right and you have a clear vision of what is happening in each moment of a show.
There are some problems with the production. There is some call and response moments in the show but the response comes from somebody (Mills?) behind the audience. Whoever it is, they are not 'acting' and it seemed like they were always late which really messed with the artistic intent of those moments in my opinion. I also thought there might have been a bit too much repetition and pauses as Ariadne paces in circles. I don't want anything in the show to be sped up per se, but I do feel it could be shortened by about ten minutes by just tightening up the looseness of the performance as a whole.
I also really have to give a shout out to best venue choice ever! In The House Of The Sun is being presented at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre and just walking through the doors into what was the first Melbourne Women's Hospital is so evocative. The art displays and signage, which are all about empowering women through our treacherous life journeys, seep into the soul before we even meet Ariadne.
Perich has me totally hooked on her work. In 2018 I saw her show Pinky Promise and was captured by her unique and insightful story telling. In The House Of The Sun is very different and yet the nuance and detail of Perich's story telling is in everything she does. I can't wait for her next show, The Old Man And The Mouse, at La Mama later this year!