Review by Jack Mitchell
With Art + Information, director Kate Gaul brings three University of Sydney scholars onto the Reginald Theatre stage to tell stories about their research, work, and personal lives. What is immediately striking is that we think of the theatre and the university lecture hall as two distinct spheres, with varying purposes. However, art is often informative, and lectures can be artful and performative as well as informative, and so the show’s title alone prompts a reflection on the separation of these categories at all. Ultimately, by bringing scholars into the theatre and animating their stories with stagecraft, lighting, and sound, Art + Information successfully explores the possibilities of bringing the two spheres into contact with one another.
Beth Yahp tells us about eccentric French writer Georges Perec, whose fundamental questions like ‘where is your life?’ led him to write stories that play with form, but also to develop a practice of being in the world that focusses on small pleasures found within the everyday. Yahp weaves between three pedestals as she recounts her own experiences and how they relate to Perec’s ideas. This staging helps to ground the narrative as well as Yahp’s body, guiding the audience helpfully through different memories as she brings them vividly to life.
Astrophysicist Tara Murphy breaks down Einstein’s theory of general relativity into almost-graspable language, providing the background to understanding a significant breakthrough for her and 4000 other astronomers around the world in 2017. Her enthusiasm for the science at hand is an encouragement to the audience to jump onboard for the ride as she traverses galaxies, star mergers, and 130 million light years. These concepts remain complex even as they are broken down into layman’s terms, and so the accompanying lighting design by Morgan Maroney (lightbulbs igniting above Murphy’s head in varying combinations) and sound design by Zac Saric are helpful tools to remind us of the wonder and magnitude of Murphy’s subject matter.
Finally, Mitchell Gibbs takes the stage and describes his doctoral work with oysters around New South Wales, his time spent at university inspired in particular by his father’s own story and his family’s imparting of Indigenous sustainability practices. Of the three narratives, Gibbs’ piece provided the clearest combination of the art and information of the show’s title, with his familial story of heritage and loss constantly informing his desire to continue his university research.
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of this production is the fact that we aren’t watching people used to performing in a theatre. They are probably more confident in the classroom, in the lab, or out collecting oysters from the ocean, but the unpolished nature of their delivery on stage, instead of being concealed, proved to be refreshing and human. The evocative music sometimes proved to be jarring when paired with the scholars’ more casual delivery, but overall this was a reminder that the performers’ stories have been deliberately recontextualised. As these are people we are not used to seeing on a stage, that initial question of the separation between art and information is brought to the fore. Indeed, the marrying of the university classroom with the theatre creates a new kind of space, one which forces us to question our preconceived expectations of either sphere, and to simply enjoy being both informed and entertained.
Art + Information is playing at the Seymour Centre until 26 November 2022.
Image Credit: Jacquie Manning