Review by Greta Doell
Devised theatre isn’t everyone’s thing.
The same can be said for plays about climate change.
Pretty much any art about climate change will instinctively get an eye roll, since we’ve all been bogged down with the doom and gloom on the news for so long. Wielding Theatre had a tough task ahead of them, selling a show that combines the two.
Both can easily be done badly.
Devised theatre is a process of creating theatre in the rehearsal room not by following a completed script, but rather by letting an idea or subject matter guide the creation process and ensemble improvisations. It’s not naturalistic, but more often abstract and visual. If it’s not done well, it can often alienate audiences too much and leave them feeling unguided through the impetus of the production and unsure about what the artists are trying to say.
And to be blunt, although theatre is inherently a political medium, people simply don’t want to pay to be bummed out about climate change.
But it is obvious that Wielding Theatre, the creators of Curveball at La Mama Courthouse, were not scared by this, because you certainly won’t be bummed out by Curveball. If anything, they bravely took these audience preconceptions in stride to create a triumphantly clever and hilarious piece of theatre.
That’s right, it’s a comedy. Curveball is a pre-post apocalyptic tragicomedy about climate change in a society of consumerism. We see the performers David Baker, Clarisse Bonello and Ben Jamieson move through moments of contemplation, grappling with the distractions of consumer culture and technology that delay focus on the topic of climate change. They try to comprehend the enormity of their circumstances and the power of the natural world, in which the human race is a virus - moving to keep destroying and consuming the resources around it, rather than acclimatising to the environment itself. They explore the greed for more that we all have in us.
They are a talented ensemble that work cohesively together to guide the audience through the pathos of the work, whilst their characters try to comprehend it themselves, thanks to the wonderful direction of Milly Cooper.
The humour throughout the production was tasteful and silly, especially through the physical comedy of Baker, Bonello and Jamieson. And the devised moments had just enough of a grounding in reality that they were meaningful and nuanced, whilst not directly slapping the audience in the face with chastising morals.
The show flowed seamlessly thanks to the brilliant production design. Rachel Lewindon and Samuel Kreusler have reworked Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planet’s’ to give the production its futuristic, pre-post apocalyptic sound design that sounded fantastic right from the opening moments of the show. The sound design worked with James Paul’s AV projections and Spencer Herd’s lighting design not to overpower the action on stage, but rather to punctuate the hilarity of the ensemble’s comedic teamwork, creating an almost cinematic backdrop for the show. It was reminiscent of several classic cinema tropes at times, with orchestral music and evocative imagery combining with the cast’s use of slow motion or mime to paint an entertaining picture.
It was simply well-crafted theatre, where the design weaved through all of the different moments with the cast consistently, but never in the same way each time, which I loved. I liked their style as well, with the production practising what it preaches by using repurposed materials to create mesmerising props and visuals, and having relaxed performances all season (as well as other audio description, tactile tour and Auslan interpreted sessions.)
It’s clear to see the pure intentions of Wielding Theatre were not to necessarily make a sellable commercial piece of theatre, but to make an accessible, heartfelt work, talking about the things that matter. And it happened to tick all of the boxes anyway.
It’s what all theatre-makers want to achieve - meaningful, entertaining and ethical work and I commend them. I can’t wait to see what the company does next, and I very much hope this isn’t the end of Curveball.