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Review: He at TheatreWorks Explosives Factory

Review by Daniel Hutchings

With He, Rodrigo Calderón has created a piece that will have you captivated from start to finish. 

He was conceived of, written, directed, produced, and performed by Calderón. It tells the story of a man who returns to his hometown, a coastal town in El Salvador, as he reflects on his childhood there, his family, the homophobia he experienced, and the reasons he left in the first place.

Calderón is a magnetic performer, and from the start, with an unconventional entrance that I won’t spoil, he has the audience in the palm of his hand. The unnamed central character of the story spends time addressing the audience directly, usually addressing them as the ocean he grew up next to. Calderón has a piercing gaze, and when he locks eyes with you in the audience, it’s impossible to look away. He is clearly accomplished at his craft, and his physicality has to be seen to be believed. He is a fearless and masterful mover, throwing himself around at times and at times operating with exact movement, occupying the space of multiple different characters with precision. 

The performance is staged well at TheatreWorks’ Explosives Factory. It’s a lovely, intimate space, which only enhances the atmosphere of the show and the audience-performer relationship, and Claderón capitalises on it. The set of the performance is simple but effective. A simple wooden swing with a pile of sand on it occupies the stage - a stoic singular image before the show begins, and utilised effectively throughout the show. Calderón sits on the swing, plays with it, frames his face with it, and - once - lunges at the audience with it. The sand, meanwhile, gets tossed off early on, and spread around the stage haphazardly as the show goes towards its climax. The swing calls us back to a childhood ‘he’ has left behind and has now outgrown, while the sand brings us to the motif of the ocean, and the coast, of his childhood.

While a work of fiction, Calderón has blended elements of the real world and his personal life in He’s script, sometimes flipping them to interesting results. He has also written it in two languages - you can catch a the show performed entirely in Spanish on the Friday nights of the show’s run. You can’t help but be reminded of the bilingual nature of the show throughout it - Calderón speaks at a breakneck pace, with intonation reminiscent of the Spanish language. It certainly made me wish I spoke Spanish so I could watch and appreciate the show in both languages! It’s a fascinating script, and one clearly developed by the production process, where movement has informed words and words have informed movement. Calderón is a first time writer - He marks his first full length script, and it’s an incredibly well-written one. 

Calderón has created a beautiful work in He, and one I would definitely recommend seeing, if only to see a magnetic performer at the height of his craft.

Image Supplied


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