Review: The Great Speckled Bird (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pactVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 17 – 20, 2015
Playwright: Ryan McGoldrick
Director: Ryan McGoldrick
Cast: Ryan McGoldrick, Claire Stjepanovic, Steve Wilson-Alexander
Image by Sanja Simic

Theatre review
The show opens with three blank panels on the backdrop, and with Ryan McGoldrick talking about the desire to write. In The Great Speckled Bird, we are never quite sure if McGoldrick has anything to say, apart from exploring and putting into articulation, the creative process itself. Perhaps commencing from the conditions of a writer’s block, and then finding liberation as the key to releasing artistic expression (as opposed to the sort forcibly derived from hard toil), what McGoldrick creates is something ephemeral, nonsensical, and thoroughly whimsical. It is also beautiful, with minimal visual embellishment but the artist has a knack for communication that holds our attention with a gentle persuasion. He introduces a spirit of innocence and wonderment that we recognise instinctively, and should we choose to embrace it, represents a re-acquaintance with something that one would hope is universal and pure.

Musicians Claire Stjepanovic and Steve Wilson-Alexander share McGoldrick’s quality of playfulness, and their presence adds a dynamism that helps the work take flight. What they achieve is entertaining and joyful, and the story they tell, while fanciful, inspires personal thoughts about the origin of life, which is clearly a deep meditation no matter how one chooses to approach it. The collaborative efforts here are seamless and full of idiosyncratic character. Stjepanovic and Wilson-Alexander’s music is delightful, and splendidly performed.

Quirky and experimental theatre is the antithesis, and indeed, the antidote for big, serious productions that can often become too caught up in conventions and commercial expectations. Art should be aware of its audience, but it must not imagine a uniformity in its reception. It needs to address a diversity that reflects the social context that it comes out of, and not seek to perform only to one kind of people. There is a confidence in The Great Speckled Bird that believes in the ubiquity of viewers who are not of the mainstream, and it chooses not to speak down to anybody, even if we are only over-sized children caught up in the creators’ fantasy.