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Review: BUMBLING (WORK IN PROGRESS) at The Quartet Bar, Festival Centre

Review by Lisa Lanzi


Isobel Marmion, Caitlin Ellen Moore, and Kidaan Zelleke have formed an intriguing artistic partnership, at one stage through the device of shared online documents as they navigated other areas of their busy lives.  These three are highly skilled South Australian creatives forging solo career paths so that uniting on this project has compelled obliged an extended timeline.  Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE Program supported a residency for the trio in April 2022 and there are plans to mount the finished work in 2025.


Marmion (Lead Artist & Writer) is the solo performer, already onstage as we seat ourselves near 6pm within the atmospheric dimness of The Quartet Bar.  Clothed in form-fitting red dress and sneakers, and dancing ‘like nobody is watching’ to upbeat background music Marmion greets folk from the stage or enters the audience space to hug a friend or to ask you to mind a drink.  After informing her audience that men seem “wildly uninterested” in her and that singlehood is pretty much a permanent condition, the performer invites us to join her one more night out on the town, because why not?  We are gently enticed toward a certain amount of audience participation starting with a vote as to how our heroine might style her hair - space buns it is.  As the ‘night’ unfolds we communally decide which clubs to visit, what to drink, and more as Marmion narrates the adventure with all its highs and lows, and inserts snippets of her character’s inner thoughts, demons, highs and lows.


Amidst the utterings of poetic text as regards dating, loneliness, and the paucity of suitable partners, a connection is made to bees and that species’ contribution to the success of life on earth.  After a past real-life dating disaster, Marmion delved into a shelf-load of literature about bees and various gleaned facts accompany the scattered truths and fictions of the show’s narrative.  For instance, the fact that bees communicate through dancing / vibration flanks the information that no one has asked this woman to dance in quite some time.  We also learn that despite “taking herself, a low cut top, and a book to the pub”, not many other invitations have been forthcoming either.


Observations about bee etiquette juxtapose instances of Marmion’s phone buzzing in her bra with a text from a latest crush.  After a few such interruptions, Caitlin Ellen Moore at the sound desk loudly suggests the inappropriateness of said phone’s presence which in turn prompts a need for further audience assistance.  Breaking the fourth wall a number of times, Marmion randomly selects folk to help send flirtatious responses to the unnamed crush, then to guard the phone and interrupt the flow of the performance immediately there is a new text.  These seemingly spontaneous audience interactions are handled unpretentiously, without any hint of force and with quite some glee by those coaxed into the performative artifice.


Director Kidaan Zelleke has skilfully navigated the pace and structure of Bumbling while the richly layered, dense text is mostly read with script in hand for this work-in-progress showing.  All three artists have contributed to content that began with conversations around disastrous dating stories.  The tenor of the whole is a little chaotic, in line with humanity’s 21st century pace of life and the unfolding climate disaster we seem hell-bent on hastening.  Simple, effective sound design from Nelya Valamanesh contributes to the whole, and undoubtedly will develop further as the work progresses to the main stage.


As a performer, Marmion delivered moments of satisfying, poetic artistry whereas at other times, the loss of connection to the character was a little jarring as the reality of being onstage, turning pages, moving through the audience and interacting with tech crew intruded.  Without doubt, further refinement and familiarity will elicit a more polished performance.  The sumptuous, convoluted text deserves to benefit from an experienced, focussed performance to keep the elaborate and layered narrative flowing and allow the sense of the story and its many metaphors to succeed.  


Bumbling is definitely a work that will resonate with a particular demographic but will still be of interest to those of us not necessarily at the dating stage.  Particularly, the informed references to bees and nature, and humans versus climate is of global interest and makes for a splendid contrast to one woman’s personal journey.  I look forward to seeing the next iteration of this female-led project.

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