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Review: White Gold at the Seymour Centre

Review by James Ong


A small mound of rice is laid bare, pearly and shimmering. Though modest on The Seymour Centre’s York Theatre stage, this simple, earthy foodstuff seems heaven sent and gleaming with potential. White Gold takes the stage as part of this year’s Sydney Festival, delivering Cambodian circus arts, dancing, music and live painting for a wonderful and mesmerising night of entertainment.


With seven circus performers, three musicians and one live visual artist, White Gold has so much talent to offer as we frequently switch between two or three person acts and full crew displays. At any given moment there is a smorgasbord of theatrics to behold, bringing to mind the sensory overload of an old school big top spectacular.


A loose narrative plays as a through line where a young villager is cast out from his home and explores the world outside - with rice being a key symbol for the foundational elements of society, nourishment, hard work, competition and spirituality. We weave through scenarios of villagers celebrating a bountiful harvest, tricksters playing games to increase their own share and the spiritual using it for art - each seeking security and self actualisation through this basic yet transcendental currency. The Buddhist lens is thoroughly implemented here as our youngster adventures through a world of greedy individualism that slowly learns to work together and focus communal harmony to escape the inherent suffering of humanity. It’s definitely heady stuff to tackle the concept of Samsara in a production with no dialogue, yet White Gold handles this all with such thoughtfulness and understanding that any audience can understand the deeply human journey on display.


White Gold doesn’t linger on the introspection however, as there is simply too much fun to had. The audience is rarely silent as we applaud in awe at the phenomenal feats mere metres from us. Viban Kong is of particular glory, taking on the most death-defying stunts, landing fantastic aerial feats with a gleaming smile. Sophea Chea and Sopheak Houn are also of particular note, with their own unique talents and physical comedy making them regular scene stealers. Adding extra tension and joy all throughout is the musical trio, whose percussion and woodwind score is truly a delight. Chantha Norng, Danith Deab and Ratha Pov (who also regularly get involved in the act) mark the mood and tempo expertly, tailoring the ambience to match the other performers and keeping the audience swept up for the full hour of the show. Ratha is a personal favourite here, as he brings so much character and vibrancy to his one or two moments centre stage.


By the grand finale, the small mound of rice has grown to become a cascading river, engulfing the entire stage - splashing and crunching along with the otherworldly feats of athleticism and artistry. White Gold, the latest production of the globally touring Cambodian circus troupe Phare, is a wonder to behold and unlike anything we’ve seen on a Sydney stage in quite some time.


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