Review by Miranda Michalowski
Imagine a world where Winter is nothing but a memory. A world where the glaciers have melted, polar bears have gone extinct, and monstrous bushfires threaten to consume the natural landscape.
This is the world that Siren Theatre Company’s ‘The End of Winter’ asks audiences to envision. Written by Noelle Janaczewska in the wake of the devastation of the 2019 Australian bushfires, this work addresses the climate crisis head-on.
Writer Noelle Janaczewska, director Kate Gaul and solo performer Jane Phegan prove their strength as a team once again, having collaborated in the past on ‘Good With Maps’, another semi-autobiographical work by Janaczewska.
This is a solo show, in which the performer is both a character and a narrator. Throughout the show, Phegan tells the audience stories about Winter, derived from art, history and fiction. These stories are interspersed with stories about her mother, who has recently died. The loss in this work is two-fold; while the performer grieves her mother, she also grieves the loss of an untouched natural world.
Phegan is a captivating storyteller who delivers a convincing performance. She has a clear sense of rhythm and strong comic timing, eliciting laughs from the audience while carefully guiding us along an emotional journey. Kate Gaul and assistant director Hayden Tonazzi have done well in shaping a layered, complex performance.
Throughout the show, Phegan tells stories about explorers of Antarctica and dives into the role of women in these explorations, a role which is often erased. I enjoyed hearing the stories about brave female explorers who “broke the ice ceiling” to enter the “Blokesphere of the Arctic”. There are also references made to the Indigenous peoples of various countries and their spiritual connection to the season of Winter. However, this is not a perspective that is explored in depth.
I struggled to understand the performer’s emotional connection to Winter, as the season was described with poetic language, but a deeper relationship was not clear to me. Some tonal shifts also felt jarring, as Phegan alternated between earnest stories about her mother and light-hearted anecdotes about Antarctic explorers. However, I still appreciated the way these two streams were woven together, particularly upon hearing that the script was largely autobiographical.
This was also a production in which design truly shone. Production design by Soham Apte featured a small wooden house with panel windows, half-submerged in the stage. The floor of the stage was a black glossy material, which cast reflections of the stage lights and Phegan’s body. At the beginning of the play, the “windows” of the house glowed amber, evoking an image of fire, with the watery floor resembling a flooded town.
Lighting design by Becky Russell was similarly inspired by seasons and natural disasters. Russell’s design evoked a melancholy atmosphere through slowly shifting colours and created intimate moments for us to focus on Phegan’s performance. I was also particularly impressed by the sound design and composition of this production. Credit must be given to composer Nate Edmondson and co-composer/sound designer Kaitlyn Crocker for creating an eerie sound design (also seemingly inspired by weather sounds such as rain) that clearly tied the scenes together.
Siren Theatre Company’s ‘The End of Winter’ is a compelling story of loss with a powerful message at its core. It asks us to reflect on the possibility of Winter ending and reminds us that the natural world was never ours to lose.
Image Credit: Clare Hawley