Theatre Review: Sydney Bridge Upside Down
Taki Rua, directed by James Ashcroft
August 7, 2013
Will genre snobs leave this latest production from Taki Rua saying that David Ballantyne’s novel of the same name, published in 1968, has been done a disservice?
Ballantyne’s novel was republished in 2010, and is now rightly regarded as a literary landmark that few appreciated at the time. Taki Rua’s production honours a near forgotten work. More power to them for doing so and taking the raw content, a decidedly gothic and bleak novel, to create an innovative piece of theatre.
David Lynch would love this production. Think here of a 21st century response to The End of the Golden Weather. Bruce Mason’s classic has come to represent a certain nostalgic mythmaking, whereas Sydney Bridge Upside Down eschews the tired trope of the kindness of neighbours and the wisdom of the community, for a nightmare trip through dysfunction visited upon people isolated and slightly bonkers at the edge of the world.
The cheat note would describe this as a tale about the coming of age one summer of Harry Baird, who lived with his one legged father, in the remote settlement of Calliope Bay. His siren-like older female cousin comes to stay, leading to inevitable pubescent longing. Some people are possibly killed in a disused meat works.
As an outline this does little justice to the production. The play unfolds in a stream of consciousness. Vignettes of home, snatches of conversation and the maddening repetition of nursery rhymes are aided and abetted by a complex soundscape on a strikingly minimalist set designed to deploy techniques from video projection to shadow screens. There’s a steeply angled wall, a fresh and more punishing take on the canted stage, for the actors to scuttle up and down. The production exudes a joy in physicality and sensuality. This world is remote, small but also dwarfed by its environment. It’s great fun and that sense of joy comes in strong contrast to the darker parts of the narrative. Innocence does not last long in Calliope Bay.
Tim Carlsen as Harry Baird, the narrator, carries a lot of dramatic weight, his character switching from disturbed adult narrator to the boy he was. When young Harry and his mates Dibs (Maaka Pohatu) and Cal (Jimmy Tito) create fantasy worlds to banish the boredom, the sense of entering a child’s world is palpable. Their father Frank (Rob Mokaraka) manages to be both menacing and vulnerable. Aaron Cortesi as giant mad butcher, Clint Wiggins, brings a touch of farce and fairytale villain. His tongue alone deserves a credit. Holly Shanahan as Susan Prosser, the nubile neighbour’s daughter and object of desire for young Harry, doubles as a camera person, while Claire Van Beek’s Caroline is the kind of woman whom the mothers of sons take an instant dislike to.
The production has clearly evolved. It could still do with sharpening in some scenes for tightness and impact. There’s a lot going on. In lesser hands it would have descended into a mash of technique and tech over substance, but this cast and crew shows real theatrical integrity. What’s great is the challenge the production offers on many levels from narrative to technique. Sydney Bridge Upside Down is a cocktail of surprise, dread and delight. Don’t miss it.
Until August 11.