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Review: Mea Culpa at Riverside Theatres

By Rosie Niven

I have to start by saying, with complete bias, that I knew that this would be a fantastic work with Cloe Fournier’s name on it. Biased, I know, but it comes from an acknowledgement of a history of brilliant works. This French-born Australian multi-disciplinary artist creates choreographic performance that while deeply rooted in dance, span successfully across theatre and visual arts. She’s performed in major international festivals, worked with multitudes of independent choreographers, and collaborated with international visual artists. Mixed with the suggestions from the media that this could be one of her gutsiest works ever, you just know it’s going to be good.

Much of Fournier’s work is driven by social activism, and Mea Culpa is no different. Seven female bodies in a futuristic society bow down to the invisible power of something called “IT”. Wrapped in plastic and skin tightened with elastic bands, the bodies look less than human, little more than a commodity. A factory worker enters the space to instruct them on how they should look, and when they can and can’t move. As the worker covers them head to toe in plastic, we watch the performers almost suffocate, hands pushing out of the sheets and trying to escape. We feel trapped with them, and when they break out it is powerful and empowering. Mea Culpa turns the light on the audience, forcing us to question our responsibility in shaping a future society, one that allows women to reclaim and recode their bodies.

Fournier’s movement aesthetic pays homage to her upbringing, blending French folk dance with contemporary physical theatre to create sharp, challenging movements for the performers. The movements feel strong and amplify the performers’ non-human aesthetic - they are machines, cogs in a society that gives them a single purpose. This futuristic aesthetic ironically reminds us that the concepts and oppression explored are in fact very modern.

Fournier is known for her solo works, but for Mea Culpa there’s a sense of community in her ensemble-based performance. Performers Imogen Cranna, Isabella Coluccio, Nicola Ford, Anna McCulla, Natalie Pelarek and Daniela Zambrano are mesmerising as they move in sync, using their voices to build a cacophony of female anger. Sighs, grunts and hisses overlap as the performers fight against societal expectations, and the result is visceral. Powerful too is when Fournier takes to the microphone to direct the other bodies, creating a beat with her words and forcing the bodies into a factory line of movements until they eventually break down.

Mea Culpa is a powerful and engaging work that has you from start to finish. It feels like a dystopian horror where the mannequin robots fight back, until you realise that the mannequins are women reclaiming their bodies, and the social restraints you see them breaking through on stage are still affecting you today. This was a strictly limited season at Riverside, so you won’t be able to catch it there, but if it comes back (and it should), get yourself a ticket. You’ll thank me for it later.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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