Review: HIBERNATION State Theatre Company SA at The Dunstan Playhouse

Review By Lisa Lanzi


Nearly 24 years ago, I was close to birthing to my only child. My choice add to the population was a tortured one as I pondered the declining state of our Earth and what that small human might have to live through as she grew to adulthood. I was always cognizant of ecology and climat, avidly followed David Suzuki (look up his Bell Jar anecdote if you don’t know it) and did what I could as an individual to ‘make a difference’. Yet here we are in 2021. It is not a healthy world and surrounded by inaction, apathy, greed (or all of the above) and governing bodies who seem only to care about power and posturing.


Enter Finegan Kruckemeyer, his intelligent and considered writing, and the world premiere of Hibernation. An award-winning playwright, Kruckemeyer first conceived of his play in 2019: a theatre work describing a global year-long ‘lockdown’ so that nature might freely re-set our planet - eerily pertinent in some ways to humanity’s ‘new normal’. It is 2030 and a sweeping, dystopian yet compelling scenario unfolds on stage although, yes, some suspension of disbelief is required. Instead of venturing into space and settling on other planets, a revolutionary gaseous drug will plunge the world population into deep sleep. Originally designed for space travel, 54E-501E allows the body to safely hibernate by regulating body temperature, lowering metabolism, stimulating muscle contractions to keep you from losing condition, and so on.


An aptly named Australian politician is superbly performed by Mark Saturno. Warwick Joyce, Minister for Space Exploration, presents himself as the architect of the hibernation scheme, part foul-mouthed power player, part passionate orator and narcissist, and, it turns out, a surprisingly self-aware yet flawed family man. The ambitious scheme is, however, the original idea of ignored-but-fierce underling staffer Emily Metcalfe astutely played by Ansuya Nathan as she shifts from anonymity to fame.


Many of the actors play more than one role but Kialea-Nadine Williams and Rashidi Edward, as Nigerian couple Chidera and Azubuike Okoye, perfectly and compassionately highlight the always relevant divide between the privileged and the disenfranchised. Williams also portrays an American TV presenter alongside Rosalba Clemente with utter clarity and presence. Clemente also shines in her US presenter role, but it is her older Cassandra character who pierces the hearts of the audience. Cassandra displays comic elements video messaging from her nursing home with her son but shifts to eco-visionary, a little like her Trojan namesake, as she declines in health post hibernation.


Pete and Maggie (excellent performers James Smith and Elizabeth Hay) preside over the second section of Hibernation as two people who have a particular and rare immunity to the sleep drug. These two roam a ‘paused’ Adelaide and witness nature’s gradual and wondrous reclamation, some tragedy, and experience a possibly fated, heartfelt connection. It is a poignant scene for the masked opening night audience to visualize Adelaide through the eyes of these characters, particularly after Covid-19-induced lockdowns and our continued vulnerability to more of the same. James Smith, in another role, is responsible for delivering a more abstract monologue at the end of one scene as the big sleep begins. His researcher character poetically describes the phenomenon of the natural world, ongoing and flourishing, in conjunction with the passive dream state of humanity in repose.


Ezra Juanta adeptly plays Mark, a journalist and Ernesto Flores, the son of Cassandra. Chris Asimos switches effortlessly between Damian, Minister Joyce’s advisor lackey, and Ernesto’s partner Luis, a policeman dealing with the aftermath of the year-long hibernation: a restless, beleaguered and gun-toting population in South America. It is through the various couplings and adventures of the characters that we are able to perceive the world of 2030 and beyond, the effects of climate change and industrialism gone mad, rising water levels, food shortages, and divided opinions about proposed global hibernation. We also briefly experience the tale through the eyes of a child, acted alternately over the season by Poppy Kelly or Eva Hinde, an important component which adds to the breadth and significance of this work, both global and personal, and its grand scale set over a decade and five continents.


Sound Designer Andrew Howard has contributed a profound score and effects which seamlessly blend into the progression of the narrative. Costuming and set are by Jonathon Oxlade with the set particularly arresting and a nod to the futuristic setting but a simplicity that provides the perfect canvas. Costuming also is thoughtfully composed and coded in colourways for different scenes echoing and complementing both lighting and sets. Gavin Norris has designed both lighting and projection for Hibernation that is both astonishing and subtle as suits the moment.


The play would not be as successful without such creative and imaginative brilliance on board.

Since his appointment in 2019, Mitchell Butel has continued to elevate South Australia’s State Theatre Company to new heights of excellence. His direction of Hibernation is elegant, thoughtful and strong, and his clear vision for the work is enhanced by the talented and diverse cast of ten actors. It is exhilarating to see a larger ensemble on stage and their obvious connection and commitment imparts power and cohesiveness to the narrative. It is also clear that the creative team thrived alongside Butel’s leadership to produce a spare yet visually stunning environment to complement the story-telling.


I truly wish this production could tour to a wider audience. Hibernation is an important and landmark work on the contemporary Australian theatre scene and a triumph for our State Theatre. Bravo!


Image Credit: Matt Byrne