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Review: Evangeline at the Old 505

By Rosie Niven

How does a show that has absolutely no words in it manage to speak so eloquently about grief and loss? That’s the biggest question I have after watching Little Dove Theatre’s Evangeline (or, the Grief That Does Not Speak Whispers the O’erfraught Heart and Bids it Break), and while I still don’t have an answer I am nothing but impressed by this interdisciplinary performance. 

As the audience enters the space, we are met with two women, both lost in their own repetitive movements. Their twitching and dancing is mesmerising to watch, but when the music switches to something more guttural (sound design and composition by Dane Alexander), the lights flicker and flash (lighting by Hartley Kemp) and the mesmerising dance becomes disturbing and violent. The two seizing bodies become five, emerging from the audience with twisted faces completely overcome with pain. These bodies verge on horror as they push their way through the audience and resemble something other than human. 

Under the direction of Chenoeh Miller, Evangeline is a simple performance that explores the very complex notion of grief, how that grief impacts us and how time and human connection can help us heal. Using the Japanese dance form Butoh, Miller uses the body as the greatest communicator of grief rather than relying on verbal language. Bodies convulsing and faces contorted in pain, their storytelling is powerful, creating a visceral experience for the audience. Standing in a line, the distorted faces of the five performers stare back at us, and although their pain is almost too much to bear, nobody can look away. It’s distressing at the least and completely heartbreaking at most.

For 10 minutes the audience takes the role of the voyeur, watching the women’s bodies twist and shake around the stage, physicalising their grief in exhausting ways. The next section of the performance is a test of the audience’s empathy - Miller jumps from her seat and reveals a sign that says ‘Please do touch’, an invitation to enter the performance space and interact with the performers. With each brave audience member that steps forward, those still in their seats get to witness something incredibly beautiful. Each connection made on stage between audience and performer is unique and without performance; the emotions are real, and soon people are holding hands, hugging each other, crying with this performer they’ve never met before. For that moment, the two people share an impenetrable connection. It is absolutely beautiful.

My only wish for this performance is that Sydney audiences could experience Evangeline in a different space - while I love the Old 505 venue, the static seating bank and cramped seats meant many people didn’t leave their seats to interact with the performers. Great accessibility for everyone would have resulted in greater interaction. 

Evangeline is a heartbreaking exercise on human connection and how to help people who are grieving. The audience were captured at every moment, and in between tears we all took a moment to empathise and reflect on the way we reach out to those in pain. As part of Sydney Fringe, this one’s only on for a week, but I highly recommend you run down to check this one out. You won’t regret it. 

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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