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Review: Labyrinth at Abbotsford Convent

Review by Stephanie Lee


Forest Collective, a group that experiments with a range of performance types, has given us their world premiere of new work Labyrinth for Midsumma festival 2024. The work is filled with haunting, beautiful music and a collection of scenes that are mystical. 


As the title suggests, the work follows the myth of the Labyrinth where the minotaur (Danaë Killian) has been hidden away and young hero Theseus (Daniel Szesiong Todd) comes to slay the beast to prove his worth to his father. Helped along the way by Ariadne (Teresa Ingrilli), Princess of Crete and half-sister to the minotaur, Theseus is given a thread to ensure he doesn’t get lost in the maze in return for her safe passage off the island. Along the way they encounter the maker of the maze (and in a way the minotaur) Daedalus (SodaWater), who wanders the maze forever, and they interrogate their tumultuous family relationships filled with shame and neglect. 


This retelling of the myth is done primarily through sung operatic verses and music, with performers’ voices, piano (Danaë Killian), flute (Kim Tan) and violin (Helen Bower) used to continuously fill the space with sound. The effect was magic, with the space seemingly perfect for creating the echoing chamber of music that formed the basis of this piece. Particularly clever and haunting was the piano (AKA the minotaur) that was calling from the furthest corner of the space until being discovered at the end with a beautifully transcendent concerto. 


The opera libretto (Daniel Szesiong Todd) and composition (Evan J Lawson) throughout was also a highlight, as the method of storytelling felt appropriately grand for the mythic nature of it all. Theseus’ final aria in scene 1 was incredibly poignant and explored the longing of wanting to make his father proud. Daniel Szesiong Todd was magnetic in the role of Theseus and commanded each space they walked into in the way one would expect a hero to. Similarly strong and watchable was Teresa Ingrilli as Ariadne, whose voice was incredibly powerful and firm in sung exchanges with Daniel. 


My favourite moment other than the final piano concerto was the string dance (Ashley Dougan and Jesse Matthews). The dancers held such focus, yet moved with the ebbs and flows of the thread strung around the space. I was hoping there would be more movement sections like this later in the piece, however, the dancers only appeared once. 


Although the piece was marketed as immersive theatre, I think it was closer to promenade theatre as the audience was moved from scene to scene by the performers beckoning us to follow. The concept was interesting, and the space certainly gave a labyrinth-like feel but I think that the way the audience interacted with the piece was underdeveloped. Unfortunately viewing was the hardest part of this work, as I and many others were often trapped behind many audience members and were unable to see anything properly. Having said that there was a lot to enjoy with just the music alone to listen to. I just think that if it is a live theatrical performance then audience engagement with the visual aspect of the piece needs to be better realised. 


The design elements – costume (Jane Noonan), lighting (Gage Bethune) and visual art (Jasmin Bardel) – all worked cohesively to build an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere for the audience to experience. It was a shame that some of the lighting design was blocked by audience members standing in front of lights, but the parts that were unobstructed were wonderfully haunting, low shadow creating lighting states. 


Overall, Labyrinth was an exciting collaboration and use of space that with further development I have no doubt will make for a beautiful, incredibly unique theatrical experience. Forest Collective is definitely one to keep an eye on. 


Image Supplied

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