Sunday 4 June 2023

HE: Theatre Review

WHEN: 2 - 17 June 2023
WHERE: Red Velvet Underground
WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY: Rodrigo Calderon

Rodrigo Calderon

I found it! The gem every theatre critic dreams of. That little piece of magic hidden in the most unexpected place. This year it is the show He, written and performed by Rodrigo Calderon, and currently being presented at Red Velvet Underground in Brunswick.

He is the story of a man, of men, of love, and of the sea. Crawling onto the beach a sad, tired, wet man sits and talks to Mother Ocean who has just birthed him. She has been with him through all of the saddest and most difficult moments throughout his life. This man does not want to be there with her, yet here he is. Here she is. Here they are, facing each other once more. A stalemate in the tug of war of a lifetime.

This is not a calming relationship. This man has been fighting for life against her irresistible forces since he was a child - a child who nearly drowned before he could learn to swim. Mother Ocean stood by and watched as this sensitive young boy learnt horrible jokes from his drunken fisherman father. She lapped in deceptive calm as love taught him to dance in her waves. So many lives across the history of time have disappeared into her depths and he asks if she can even remember their names. 

Perhaps she will remember this one which got away, though? The one with the temerity to face her and question her. Or perhaps not. Probably not.

We meet this man in a time of mourning. He is struggling to remember his grandmother's recipe for a favourite fish dish. She served this dish when he was a boy who barely escaped being drowned in Mother Ocean's waves. 

We meet his father, a man of toxic masculinity. A man who should be the boy's tower of strength, but in a moment of drunken homophobic insensibility brings his son's world crashing down on him. The pain does not stop there, but these are secrets you have to go to the show to find out.

What I will tell you is He is blindingly fantastic on all levels. The writing is glorious, the words and ideas lapping in poetic repetition drawing us into the story like the sand drawn back into the ocean with the tide. Across the course of the play these waves of words are gentle, playful, mournful. They swell to terrifying tempests and swirl into deep and deadly maelstroms. 

It is not just the writing though. Calderon is a master actor and physical theatre afficionado. In particular he is a Suzuki practitioner. If you have ever wondered how to use Suzuki in performance, come and see He and you will understand. He is an absolute masterclass in Statues!

He will have you laughing, crying, gasping in outrage, and lost in despair. In the end, it will leave you sharing the delirium of community and dance. It is one of the most beautiful love stories ever written. It is one of the saddest too. 

As Calderon tells us, humans are fragile. How much strength do we need to stay alive? Or is it just pure luck? Perhaps that is a question only Mother Ocean can answer.

5 Stars

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