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Review: Air Time at Wollongong Town Hall

Review By Bradley Ward

It is easy to fall prey to patterns, succumbing to the repetitiveness of your own choices until they become rituals. It can therefore be shocking, and wholly necessary, to be reminded that there are things which exist outside our patterns. It is wholly necessary to be reminded that theatre can be anything we want it to be. It doesn’t have to be privileged people discussing privileged issues. Its language can be made of abstract sound and bodies in motion. It can be street theatre, dance, clowning, or stunting. Branch Nebula is back with a brand-new show to remind us that theatre can be all these things at once, and more.

On the surface, and in its advertising, Air Time seems fairly simple: it is a high adrenalin stunt show. Its subversion begins almost immediately as the performers take to the stage/skate park slowly and in almost complete silence, soundtracked only by the microphone enhanced sounds of sneakers on wood and wheels rattling over cracks. It is intimate yet orchestral, accurately setting the tone for the show to come. That’s not to say that there aren’t high octane tricks and a thumping soundtrack, but they take time. They build and collide and subvert and mystify and earn their time on the stage. They force you to lean in, slowly, and then when you feel like you’re about to fall off your seat, you’re thrown into a barrage of death-defying tricks that leave you gasping for air. Then, it eases off once more, transitioning into something slower or sillier or more abstract. There is an ebb and flow to the show far beyond what you would get from a normal stunt show. That is because this isn’t a normal stunt show. It is medium-bending, genre-breaking, pure theatre.

Clear praise needs to be given to the stunt riders who are not just technically brilliant at what they do but attack this show with a cool professionalism that is a wonder in itself. They soar, landing tricks within inches of each other, and never once do their faces reflect the panic that I felt watching them. Nakula Boag (Skateboard), Jakeb Dugdell (BMX), and Tia Pitman (Rollerskates) are wonders on wheels, and free-runner Tristan Hodder is equally brilliant on his own two feet. Rounding out the cast are the two dancers, Cloé Fournier and Feras Shaheen, whose clowning and trickery regularly drew embarrassing cackles from me. Fausto Brusamolino’s lighting design is subtle yet emotive, and Phil Downing’s sound design is complex and at times confronting. Most impressively, their designs are responsive, keeping in close step with the actions of the performers. The audio-visual design is a masterful lesson in rhythm, making every step of a very chaotic show seem confidently choreographed.

Air Time is bizarre. It is experimental and absurd and punk rock and bizarre. It is, perhaps, a little too bizarre for some audiences. I understand the confusion of some of the less theatre-inclined audience members who had come expecting a normal stunt show. I understand the pulling away of the more theatre-inclined audience members who enjoy clear narrative arcs and consistent emotional tones. I understand the appeal of art that conforms to a singular artistic form. It is necessary to be reminded sometimes that there is a wealth of brilliant and bizarre things that exist outside our tastes, and that is what Air Time is. It is brilliant and bizarre and necessary. If theatrical experimentation is your thing, get out and see this show. There are few theatre companies that subvert expectations and present bodies in motion quite like Branch Nebula. If theatrical experimentation isn’t your thing, give it a chance anyway. You’ll still find moments of beauty and excitement to be enjoyed. Come for the radical stunts; stay for the chance of finding something new.

Image Supplied

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