Tuesday 21 May 2024

THE WORD: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Word
WHEN: 17 - 26 May 2024
WHERE: Abbotsford Convent (Magdalene Laundry)
WRITTEN BY: Michael Carmody, Nadja Kostich, Michele Lee and Ensemble
DIRECTED BY: Nadja Kostich
COMPOSED BY: Allara Briggs Pattison
SET AND COSTUME BY: Matilda Woodroofe
LIGHTING BY: Richard Vabre
PERFORMED BY: Spike Angwin, Grace Annan, Sunday Bickford, Kleopatra Dukas, Harris Tate Elliott, Noray Hosny, Oscar Munro, Jackson Reid, Harriet Turner-Brown, Vito van Hout, Frankie Lee Willcox
VIDEO DESIGN BY: Michael Carmody

Ensemble - photo by Jason Cheetham

Words... We give them. We speak them. We take them back. We forget them. We write them. We erase them. We colonise them. We lose them. We find them. We learn them. We honour them. We ban them. They are clumsy and imprecise, yet they are the most sophisticated communication system we have ever designed. We are who and what we are because of them and in spite of them. The St Martin's Theatre Youth Ensemble have spent a long time exploring them and they now have an (almost) undergraduate level of understanding of semiotics and - more importantly - a brilliant piece of theatre now playing at Abbotsford Convent, called The Word.

The Word has been crafted over a year and a half under the tutelage and guidance of an incredible array of industry creatives. What shines through the strongest in this show, and IMO is perhaps the greatest achievement, is the cohesion of the ensemble as well as their centredness and confidence in what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are doing it.

The Word is physical theatre, but it is not the kind which is high powered and aggressive. The performers rarely stand still, but their movements and journeys around the space is gentle and controlled. They find themselves within some kind of archaeological archive. The space is strewn with pottery and busts on wooden plinths which are moved around as story and context shifts and changes. Within this archive the ensemble explores their relationships with language, heritage, and community. 

The words themselves are released into the space in the form of video projection (Michael Carmody), dialogue, monologue, poetry, song, breath and silence. The words BEFORE, AFTER, and NOW slide into each other across 2 large cloths defining the boundaries of the corner stage configuration. These words, the artefacts littering the stage, and the energy and youth of the ensemble tell us immediately that what has happened and what is happening are all integral parts of what is yet to come.

Two groups form. An ancient feud. Somebody said something but nobody remembers what, exactly. Sides have been taken, but if you don't remember what was said anymore should you change sides? Should there even be sides? Modern day apps are full of tick box answers to questions but what if nothing suits so you have to tick 'other'? Can you really explain how you don't fit in a box in just 180 characters? Can words be that meaningful and precise? Somebody doesn't like a word. Should we ban it? Do we understand the ramifications of doing so? Do we understand the ramifications of letting the word stay? 

Nadja Kostich (director) has led this marvellous ensemble into a maelstrom of humanity and together they have created a beautiful map - or is it a maze? Helping to connect language to feeling and emotion Allara Briggs Pattison (composer) has, with absolute genius, created a sound scape which takes us into the deepest heart places and subliminally helps us understand why words are important to us as individuals, us as a community, and us as a collection of communities. The journey includes original songs by two cast members which are breath-taking! 

The movement sequences created by Bridget Fiske (choreographer) keep the space, the air, and the ideas ebbing and flowing and allow the words to shift the dust on a musty history of communication and the lighting sculpted by Richard Vabre (lighting designer) reveals and hides in a playful yet edifying manner. All of this plays out on an evocative museum style palette created by Matilda Woodroofe.

When you enter the performance space, you are offered the chance to write down some words that are important to you. Words that you love or hate, your first word, words you have been introduced to. This small act of pre-performance framing is integral to how deeply you become embedded in the concepts held in the show. Along the way we also learn the history of the Magdalene Laundry itself which 'speaks' so strongly the tale being told in it right now. 

This is not a show about answers. The Word explores ideas. It explores ideas about words and ideas framed by words. You will leave The Word wiser than when you entered the building, and you will be glad this happened.

4.5 Stars

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