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Review: Ohh Deer! at the Capitol, RMIT - Rising Festival

Review by Kate Gaul

Aphids is an artist led experimental art and performance group based in Melbourne. Since 1994 the company makes all kinds of work in all kinds of venues such as theatres, town halls and drive ins. The current incarnation of the company is led by co-artistic directors Lara Thoms and Mish Grigor. “Ohh Deer!” premiered as part of the Rising Festival at the glorious Capitol Theatre in Melbourne.

This devised production is made with a (large) group of performance makers, devisors all of whom have lost a parent. Disciplines range for poets, dancers, comedians, and experimental noise makers. It’s a bit like watching a dead parent’s club as the work interrogates grief, loss, and popular culture.

I was reminded that Lana Thoms as director on this piece had also made a show called “The Director “in which Lana and funeral director of 21 years, Scott Turnbull appeared on stage to demystify the death process through humour and first-hand knowledge to dig a little deeper into what happens when we go. So, I guess it is fair to say that death and death-doings are a preoccupation.

Death remains a taboo subject so any project, event, happening or production that can open channels of conversation to help remove fear around what is going to eventuate for all of us has got to be a positive thing. “Oh Deer!” frames this universal experience through the tropes of popular culture while the cast are dressed as popular culture characters eg, Disney ice princess, Nemo, an elephant, a deer… Characters are often presented as orphans and, we are told, the parent losing occurs at the beginning of great journeys.

The company has a psychologist as part of the making process, and she sits onstage during the performance. The work is very intimate, and we observe the results of what has been no doubt a fascinating coming together of artists who can share lived experience. Despite the costuming, the cast are presenting their authentic selves and lives on stage rather than “acting”. What happens on stage is often small and intimate everyday care: a sandwich is made and shared; hair is brushed and plaited. Video artist Solomon Thomas unobtrusively captures all of this, and images are projected onto a screen. In this way the production retains its intimacy in this huge and luxurious venue.

“Oh Deer!” has a haphazard feel to it. Brightly lit on and open white space, adults in absurd costumes with bizarre behaviour react to provocations as if at a weekly meet-up or support group. It does require patience to find an entry point as audience, but the resulting, rich accumulation of moments is powerful. It’s a show that I wanted to speak about days after having seen it.

“Oh Deer!” is full of humorous moments and we are reminded that coping with grief is often through humour – who knows how to react or behave when news of the macabre reality of life is delivered? The absurdity of life and death is presented here with poignancy and humour in a delicate balance. The result is a playful, resonant and life affirming festival event.

Image Credit: Michael Pham


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