Friday 20 October 2023

BACK POCKET: Theatre Review

WHAT: Back Pocket
WHEN: 16 - 22 October 2023
WHERE: The Motley Bauhaus (Black Box)
WRITTEN BY: Nikki Viveca
PERFORMED BY: Chelsea Crosby, Sophie Gould, Isha Menon and Jalen Ong

Chelsea Crosby, Isha Menon, Jalen Ong and Sophie Gould

How can you not settle into a show with the opening line 'A queer dove into Time's back pocket...and Time strolled on.'? Jalen Ong (a clown/sprite) is sleeping on a platform covered in an oversized patchwork quilt as these words settle into the space. Here we are, in Time's back pocket too. This is the beginning of a magical tale about finding peace and beauty in a dystopian obsessed world. Back Pocket, presented by Tart Theatre Collection as part of Melbourne Fringe, is that warm hug and meditation on gentle joy we all need in our lives. You can get your metaphorical hug at The Motley Bauhaus.

Back Pocket is a dream of a space where you can do and be anything you want without your development being interrupted by the challenges and harshness of 'the real world'. Four clownish sprites (Chelsea Crosby, Sophie Gould, Isha Menon, and Ong) relax and play and discover and love in Time's back pocket in an intriguing blend of written lyrical passages (Nikki Viveca) and physical theatre.

Directed by Maeve Hook, Back Pocket does have a narrative arc although it meanders through that arc in joy and peace, revelling in the characters being carried by Time rather than having to march alongside it. The story is simple in it's complexity. Jalen wakes up in the pocket and, one by one, the other clown/sprites reveal themselves. There is the hint of a breakup being the catalyst, but essentially the four characters move in together. 

We begin to understand the intention of Back Pocket with the unpacking of suitcases and the joy and detail in pulling every piece out and telling it's story. One of them (Crosby) is reluctant to unpack. "I don't unpack until I have been somewhere for 4 months", but with some gentle modelling and an irresistible array of cat pix, she reveals something impressively gasp worthy. 

Through an array of textual excerpts, some glorious composition (Lore Burns), gentle clowning, and physical games and explorations (Kyra Ryan's lighting plays with them too) we see these four characters settle into fun, play, love and peace as they heal and become whole in preparation to leave the pocket. But do they really have to leave, or can we all be in the pocket with them?

A purest might comment that Ong is the only true physical theatre performer, with the litheness and agility which comes with formal dance training. I don't accept that, though, and as I inferred in the past with my review for Exposed, you do not have to be technically proficient in the traditional way to create physical works of great beauty and grace. What you need is heart, and intention, and authenticity. Hook draws this out from all of her clown/sprites. 

It is inspiring to see everyday people expressing themselves in forms and practices they are usually excluded from because they don't fit a privileged restriction called 'high art'. Ironically what it means is the truth and integrity of the ideas can be absorbed so much more easily because we can identify with the bodies up on stage. None of this diminishes the quality of the art created. In fact, it elevates it. This is real high art.

Feel good shows are quite rare these days. For some reason we have become addicted to sharing stories of pain, sorrow, and despair. In Back Pocket the question is asked 'why can't we look at things through rose coloured glasses?' Wouldn't the world be a better place if we all did that?

4.5 Stars

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