EFR - Reviews of Cusp - Free

Cusp - Free

Sun 21st – Sun 28th August 2011

reviews

Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:53 on 22nd Aug 2011

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The whimsical humour in the programme for the Urban Fox Collective’s piece immediately created an interesting juxtaposition with the serious premise of a show about female identity – anticipation of a ‘Vagina Monologues’ style show. Unfortunately, despite a theme full of potential, a strong ensemble physicality and moments of well-timed comedy, this piece was as a whole clichéd, unpolished and unfocused, leaving in its wake a thoroughly confused audience with a female contingent questioning if it had actually done a disservice to our sex.

What was most disappointing were the moments of promise indicating potential that failed to be explored. The opening was powerful and interesting, unfairly raising the hopes of an audience, with the use of torches recreating the sense of a child reading under bedsheets at night that strongly outlined a theme about the importance of fiction, however, what the message concerning this theme was intended to be is still a mystery to me. The voice of Matilda Thomas was particularly suited to this narrative opening and her talent for comic timing later shone through, making her the most memorable part of this ensemble.

As a group, the physical set pieces were well devised and there were sparks of originality in the wardrobe holding Jane’s potential future selves. In addition, the perfectly timed section where the other girls were speaking behind Rowena Wallace’s mouthing indicated that some of the piece had been exceptionally well prepared. The literary references used – Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and a nod to William’s ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ – again implied a message about women in fiction but one that was poorly conveyed, the ensemble may have been completely sure what their piece was about but failed to convey this to an audience.

Scene transitions were clumsy and confusing and there were a variety of issues with volume and enunciation that did nothing to aid audience understanding. The moments of humour did not lift the mood of a thoroughly depressing piece with no conclusion, no message and nothing to offer and when thematic points were made, they were hammered home so hard that you wondered why flyers weren’t just handed out. The most interesting premise they touched upon was the story about the 22 year old suicide; Min Kim the centre of an undoubtedly beautiful scene on this topic but nonetheless incomprehensible for its beauty.

The performance I attended appeared to have a major cast crisis at the end where a huge silence teamed with uncomfortable looks by the ensemble implied that something had gone horribly wrong, perhaps if the ending had gone to plan I would completely understand this piece and be able to write a different review, but, as it is, it felt muddled, unrehearsed and thoroughly pointless. What the characters were on the cusp of was never quite clear, perhaps the cast were on the cusp of a powerful and original piece of devised theatre, but they were pretty far from the edge.

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Annabel James

at 12:11 on 22nd Aug 2011

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It’s so difficult to do justice to this. Urban Foxes Collective’s piece of devised physical theatre is a beautiful exposition of what it means to be female and to grow up, but it’s also about literature, and art, and feeling the fragile example of your role models crack under the overwhelming pressure of choosing how to live.

The performance only loosely anchors itself in plot as we meet the character of Jane, about to turn twenty-one and on the cusp of - she doesn’t know what exactly. A striking tableau of figures arranged with torches, lampshades and an analogue clock opens up and unravels as the all-female group become storytellers, weaving Jane’s life from old books scattered across the stage. We know she has read about a 22-year old woman trying to kill herself after being abandoned by her fiancé. Aside from that, however, Jane’s life is given to us in a fragmented selection of remembered encounters, snatches of overheard words, fearful visions of the future. The script circles around recurrent a preoccupation with the life of Virginia Woolf, and there is something reminiscent of the hollow focalization of the narrative of ‘Jacob’s Room’ in the way Jane’s character is at once absent and always spoken about.

As Jane’s fellow characters strive at once to guide her and lead her astray, we watch her thoughts acted out with skilful control of props which really are no more than a few sheets and papers, brought to life first as a fluttering lightness that envelops her and then as the waters in which Woolf drowned. The women’s speech is sometimes choric, sometimes split into competing voices which vie for control of Jane’s thoughts – ‘yes, drowning does sound rather beautiful, doesn’t it’ – ‘she was old, and it wasn’t beautiful, it was sad’. The stage becomes littered with fragments of domestic furniture: a landscape of Jane’s mind reflected in the spaces she inhabits, like old paintings by female artists who couldn’t leave their homes unchaperoned. A man’s coat on a hanger becomes emblematic of a presence Jane feels imposing on her future decisions: it becomes animated in the arms of a woman softly muttering ‘the only thing a girl can be in this world is a beautiful little fool’.

The level of skill in its execution is astounding. Having seen a particularly nauseating example of ‘physical theatre’ the day before I found the graceful control of movement in the cast of ‘Cusp’ a revelation. The image of female bodies slumped still under an empty clothing rail, as though they themselves had become empty garments, had astonishing visual power. The technical manipulation of light and sound was tastefully done; there was a problem with lighting at the very end of the piece but it did nothing to mar the brilliance of this hour-long marvel.

This production is bursting with good ideas, and – unbelievably - it’s free. For the combination of a script as well crafted as poetry and movements orchestrated with the grace of a dance choreographer this show really must not be missed. There is something so quiet and honest about it which in itself makes it beautiful. It’s the best thing I’ve seen anywhere for a while, let alone this year at the Fringe.

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