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Review: Are We Not Drawn Onward To New Era at The Ros Packer Theatre

Review by Alison Stoddart


When I was a child, I vividly remember playing the game of doing everything backwards.  It would have me and my friends in stitches of laughter, especially when we pretended to eat backwards.  And when I was a teenager my friends and I created our own language to converse with each other. So it was with great interest that I settled in for the great reveal in Are We Not Drawn to New Era. Stemming from the famous Kierkegaard quote ‘life must be lived forwards, but it can only be understood backwards’ this production from Belgium company Ontroerend Goed is fascinating in its simplicity.


A bare stage with a small tree in a pile of dirt being the only prop, opens the performance. The tree does have a single apple, a nod to creation theory perhaps.  What follows is a confusing mix of strange language, strange movements and not much of a narrative arc. We witness the wilful destruction of the tree by one of the six cast members on stage, a shocking and saddening sight and my only regret with regard to the staging of this play.


The cast don’t say much but when they do speak it weirdly sounds like a mix of Dutch, French and German, which is probably attributed to the actors’ accents more than anything else.  It does not take long to realise they are speaking backwards (an unbelievably hard script to memorise!).  To clarify this fact, one line of dialogue is spoken forward ‘Guys this is good, we did good’.  A simple sentence which is easily remembered when encountered in the second half of the performance.


The assembling and raising of a statue of a man (an all-conquering domination of the world reference) is well done and along with the mass dumping of plastic bags onto the stage, we can see the recurring motifs emerging. The closing act of covering the stage in smoke (smog) which filters into the audience and fills the theatre is overwhelming (and has many audience members coughing).


Once I had worked out the premise of what the actors were doing, I eagerly anticipated how they would perform in reverse.  So, it was intriguing to find that the whole initial ‘backward’ part of the performance had been filmed.  We saw reversed what we had just witnessed, projected onto the transparent curtain, which was dropped in front of the debris still scattered around the stage.  The use of this unique theatrical convention to tell a story in an original way was to press home the universal themes of climate change and world destruction.


To watch the whole show again is a discombobulating experience, especially with regard to some physical acts which can take on a whole different meaning when reversed (waving hello/goodbye is a good example).


That one story reversed can create two different narratives is an original and clever way to present. The persistence in sticking with the first twenty minutes rewards the audience with a clear and miraculous performance about how we are on a trajectory to destroying ourselves and the world we inhabit. Are We Not Drawn Onward To New Era is definitely thought provoking and highly recommended.


Image Supplied


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