Review By Lisa Lanzi
It makes my heart sing to see and experience youth theatre work that is insightful, professional, thought-provoking, and life-affirming.
Conundrum Theatre is Singapore-based and founded by Claire Glenn and Anthony Kelly, former and much awarded South Australian artist/educators. They have embarked on their first international tour to the 2023 Adelaide Fringe with Evolution Revolution. I often think that excellent youth theatre companies are paving the way to a positive future for humanity by guiding and inspiring younger generations toward profound thinking and constructive action, as powerfully exemplified with this production.
Commencing with Dickens’ quote from A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (and ending with a snippet from Shakespeare), playwright Kimberly Sim has crafted a dystopian world in tandem with the devising talents of an extraordinary cast where totalitarian leader, Lord Pinkle Dinkle Smith III, wields power after a catastrophic world war. With thematic material that covers climate change, justice systems, bodily autonomy, ethics, and manipulative politics this elegant production is spookily prescient, influenced as the company might well be by real world incidents. Sim, a person of many artistic talents, is Associate Artist with Conundrum and recently graduated with an honours degree in Musical Theatre from LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore.
The absurdist world we experience is Asina, a nation risen from the ashes of a great catastrophe and presented as sincerely benevolent by corrupt leadership. The reality for Asina’s population is less salubrious and life is directed by meaningless aphorisms such as “There is no I in We”. Further illogical pronouncements are issued including a requirement for ‘transformative’, barbaric surgery where waste will no longer be able to exit the body thus rendering scarcity of food a non-issue, the body a closed system and the ultimate ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ symbol. Much of the action invoked laughter but equally, a discomfort brought on by the narrative’s closeness to reality, or entirely possible imagined, future realities. The effective costuming, simple staging, plus video and graphic elements were perfectly combined adding to the futuristic environment and absurdity of the created world.
The entire cast contributed to the devising process and are marvellously focussed and adept performers. The precision, commitment, and talent on stage has obviously been nurtured and shaped by Claire Glenn’s detailed direction and inspired approach to devising, making the whole offering very engaging. There is a long list of creative contributors, including Timothy Mackie as choreographer (on zoom from Adelaide), a standout being the courtly dance celebrating the triumphal entrance of the leader (Hayden Roberts, a colourful and accomplished performer). I do want to acknowledge all these well-trained performers as being precise with their physicality and excellent in characterization and vocal technique.
Bravo Conundrum Theatre and congratulations cast and creatives on an absorbing work of theatre.