By Fred Pryce
For the past few months, not only has theatre ceased to exist, but many of our day-to-day physical spaces have too. Public transport, offices, restaurants, and gatherings have all been necessary sacrifices to lockdown, and more and more events have been made digitised, including those as personal as therapy sessions and funerals. Theatre has been contending with film and visual media for over a century now, and as the industry begins to cautiously open up again, it seems more relevant than ever to interrogate the purpose of live performance. What do we gain from sharing a space with others? What can make theatre feel magic? Inner Weather, a quiet new play by Michael Becker, and Fixed Foot Productions is a show uniquely fitted to these inquiries, a deep dive into the intimacy that theatre allows.
This is immediately noticeable just from the way the space is designed. Chairs (adequately spaced out) surround a careful display of coloured candles, a weathervane, and an acoustic guitar, while ambient music tinkles softly in the background. It’s an array that feels distinctly more Mullumbimby than Chippendale, a premonition reinforced by the play’s introduction by its host, Winter. The play is not only set at a sharing circle, but it is a sharing circle—and all attendees are encouraged to come forward and share something that may have been weighing them down. Those not yet adjusted to the outside world may be terrified by the threat of forced audience interaction, but all participation was completely optional. In fact, this lack of participation sometimes felt to the show’s detriment, as it meant that it tended more towards the conventional than the spiritual.
Becker was inspired by his own experiences with ‘judgment-free zones’, spaces that use communal support to allow for openness, vulnerability, and healing. The play’s primary achievement is that it succeeds in creating this, and you may find yourself reflecting on your own experiences as you listen to others tell theirs. Essentially the play boils down to three stories, shared as monologues from characters seated among the audience. The first is from a young man, dealing with commitment issues while attending an ayahuasca ceremony in the Blue mountains. The second, a drummer who had a shot at fame but couldn’t commit. And finally, a woman reminisces on a lost chance at love, and the death of her child. These are heavy topics, and the writing thrives when it handles them with a light touch, highlighting the funny or awkward specificities that are part of any good anecdote.
The best example of this is the drummer (a very believable Paul Ayre), who describes the pretensions of his childhood bandmates with humorous detail, and is horrified to learn that none of the kids there now know about Blink-182. He quotes from a popular novel, “sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.” Though real people reference art to explain their own thoughts, that the best summation of the play’s themes comes from an outside author is slightly telling. The stories can be frustratingly vague and meandering, and occasionally uncomfortable when the teller begins to break down, as it feels like we don’t really know enough about them to understand why. All of the actors do commendable work, but in the end, it feels less like a sharing space than sitting in on someone else’s therapy. You certainly sympathise with them, but outside of a dramatic story to tie things together, it seems much more useful for the speaker than the listener.
This may also have been because of the format: three monologues of roughly twenty minutes with little connective tissue between them aside from theme. The use of the space is bracing and creative, so it was disappointing that in sticking to a naturalistic immersion, there is some genuine dramatic potential lost. Towards the night’s end, a single audience member chose to speak (I am unsure if the production wished for other speakers between the actors’ monologues). His speech was short but magnetic, carrying the vibrancy of lived experience, and it was clear that he valued the experience of such a safe space. A hybrid of theatre and therapy may have a lot to offer—but without that balance, it may start to feel like neither.
Photo Credit: Clare Hawley