Review by Hannah Fredriksson
Sometimes it feels like no matter which way you turn the world keeps bombarding you with bleak stories – natural disasters, freak accidents, nations at war, billionaires in submersible-based peril – it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity and feel weighed down by the enormity of everything wrong in the world. Catastrophes is an equally literal and abstract exploration of this tension, through the lens of motherhood as experienced by two very close friends.
Renée Newman and Ella Hetherington are brilliant actors who each have a wealth of experience in theatre and performance. Together they have created this brutally honest production that is incredibly self-aware and vulnerable.
The stage is completely engulfed in a vast white sheet, suspended at different points by a series of ropes and pulleys. The rear of the stage is flanked by a series of mismatched chairs, the eclectic combination a reflection of the chaos in the state of the world. Throughout the performance, the canopy slowly sinks and rises like a tidal wave threatening to swallow the performers whole – a visual representation of the consuming pressure of anxiety.
The artist statement about the work indicates that “at the core of the work is the notion of ‘parrhesia’ which is a kind of truth-telling that is risky and brave.” Throughout the performance Renée and Ella share some increasingly personal stories with the audience, including some small peeks behind the veil of putting together this show – their aspirations and late-night musings, the ambitious ideas that didn’t quite make it to fruition. It’s cheekily self-aware, and sets a tone of frank honesty between the performers and the audience. This means that when they ask each other probing personal questions and talk about their life experiences and the burdens they carry, you believe that their answers are genuine and not fabricated for the sake of the performance. Their tone shifts and becomes conversational like two friends simply having a yarn despite sharing this intimate moment with a room full of strangers.
The performance ends on an optimistic note, as Renée and Ella recall a series of things that conjure warm and happy thoughts. It’s a gentle reminder that the chaos of the world is inherently in balance with redeeming qualities – such is the duality of the human experience. We may be powerless to stop all the wrongdoings from occurring in the world, but perhaps we can find refuge in the good things around us and the people we love. When the looming canopy finally engulfs the stage as a final sweeping crescendo, it feels not like the walls are caving in, but instead like a gentle embrace.
At a compact 60 minutes with no interval, Catastrophes is a succinct piece of theatre that is both sobering and uplifting, a gentle reminder that you are magnificent and worthy despite feeling like you may be falling short of an impossible standard. Catch it at Pica til 26 August.