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Review: Peacemongers at Darebin Arts Centre

Review by Stephanie Lee

‘Peacemongers’ is a beautifully crafted 90 minutes of dinner theatre that holds space for hope, disappointment and most importantly coming together. This latest work by The People may have ‘failed’ in its intention to design the utopia it dreamed of, but the result we are left with is anything but a failure.

The devised work is a piece of documentary theatre, which is exactly what it sounds like and is cut together as if it were a film. It moves from present day explanations to snippets of the devising process and then to glimpses of final presentation. There are moments where the audience are asked to contribute, usually in a polling format, and everyone is served dinner in the first half of the evening (deliciously provided by Moon Rabbit). Everything is held together by a timeline structure, that moves roughly from the beginnings of the project to now. Perhaps most commendably it does not shy away from the tricky topics, the disagreements, and the mishaps along the way. It also culminates in a very grand musical number towards the end complete with choreography and a costume change.  

The room itself is wonderfully designed, with the audience positioned at tables in a semi-circle around the space that invites them into engaging with the piece. Nathan Burmeister’s set is simple but stunning, with a small, ramped stage that is filled with imagery of Ancient Greek ruins (a reference to one of the performers dreams and the idea of ‘new’ vs ‘old’ world). The costumes are casual and yet feel personal to each performer, which visually represents the multiplicity of voices behind the work as there was no attempt to ‘uniform’ them. Rachel Lee’s lighting design somehow manages to transform what is actually a pretty ordinary meeting room into something magical. The lighting moves with the piece itself, slowly seeping more into fantastical colours as the work slips into presentational format more frequently towards the end. Sound also is utilised in this way in Justin Gardam’s design and the composition by some of the performers (Zachery Pidd with İbrahim Halaçoğlu, Sonya Suares and Samuel Gaskin). The sound gently pushes louder, as the urge to complete the task feels greater and the possibility of reaching a final format looms closer. 

The work also integrates some AV and live cinema moments designed by Justin Gardam with camera operation on the night by assistant director Meg Taranto. The AV allows for devisor Kate Hood, who is currently performing in ‘The Cost of Living’, to be viscerally present in the work staged (something important to the group of performers). The AV is also frequently used in a very kitsch PowerPoint aesthetic, which is very entertaining and supports the quick jumping through time that the piece does. There even is a PowerPoint presented by Sonya Suares during dinner break with funny home-made graphics exploring whether we can have a fair and just society. 

While the design elements are masterfully executed, ultimately it is the performers that make this piece truly extraordinary. Samuel Gaskin, Kate Hood, İbrahim Halaçoğlu, Sonya Suares, Mia Boonan and Zachary Pidd are an absolute delight from the moment you step into the space and each work with such a care for the audience that is very special. They are all charming and thoughtful performers and creators. It is very apparent that they believe wholly in the work they are engaging in, and the generosity with which they invite an audience into that work is laced with genuine hope of utopia. I cannot stress enough that they are such a brilliantly strong and engaging ensemble of performers. 

Co-creators Katrina Cornwell (also director) and Morgan Rose (also writer) have shaped this years-long collaboration of attempting to design a utopia into a piece of theatre that experiments with form in an exciting way and allows the audience to experience both moments of success and failure. 

The creative team behind this show turned the question of what a utopia looks like into fleeting glimpses of the utopic that are tiny revolutions against the status quo. For a moment an audience was allowed to come together, have hope, watch that hope be crushed by disagreement and then emerge on the other side with a sense of togetherness and care. 

‘Peacemongers’ has dared to be bold in a truly interesting, heartfelt way and I highly recommend you catch this labour of love before it sells out!

Image Supplied



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