Sea - review
Red Leap Theatre
March 6, 2014
There’s something distressing about sitting in a play full of creative endeavour, presented by hard-working and highly skilled people, and realising that the longer it goes on, the more boring it gets. Red Leap Theatre made their name in 2009 with the wonderfully inventive festival show The Arrival, based on the captivating and haunting comic novel by Shaun Tan. That show filled the Civic and since then has played in festivals throughout Asia and the Pacific. It was wonderful. Red Leap’s new show is presented at the Maidment and is smaller in every way.
It’s not that their brand of determined physical exertion, big puppets and captivating visual imagery demands a big stage in order to work. It’s not that they’re not trying, either. Artistic directors Kate Parker and Julie Nolan have again assembled a talented cast and crew and they all throw themselves into the work. From giant turtles gliding across the stage to the lithe movement of bodies and the delightfully engaging music, talent is on show, and Sea contains many clever, sometimes quite beautiful moments.
The problem is, that’s not enough. There’s little narrative drive and no characters; the odd moment of conflict feels artificially imposed; and in the end there is no cathartic experience. Maybe you don’t always need those things, but if you decide not to have them you really should have something else in their stead. This is a show in which nine people, whom we don’t learn about and therefore don’t care about, spend the best part of 80 minutes pretending to swim around underwater. It’s got an environmental theme.
Somehow, because of that theme, there’s an unstated message that we’re supposed to love the show regardless.
I’d like to say that because there are elements to admire, and because theatre is a broad church of styles and tastes, a new show like this has the potential to sharpen up and find its audience.
But it wouldn’t be true. There’s a big hole where its beating heart ought to be, and the best it can hope for is to be pretty.
I specially don’t recommend you take children. You’ll put them off theatre. And turn them into environmental cynics. Mind you, that’s probably true for adults too.