Review: The Irresistible (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 11 – 15, 2019
Playwrights: Ariadne Daff, Zoe Pepper, Tim Watts
Director: Zoe Pepper
Cast: Ariadne Daff, Tim Watts
Images by Rémi Chauvin, Dan Grant

Theatre review
April wants to give her sister Bridget a break from motherhood, so little Cassie comes to stay. We soon discover that the child is not only a handful, she is in fact bizarre. The Irresistible too is often a strange exercise, with two actors playing a range of characters, behind translucent screens blurring our vision, and microphones altering their voices as if to say that it matters not, which actor is assuming which role.

The action is episodic, involving disparate narratives that our minds will insist on assembling a coherent picture out of, but the greatest pleasure in The Irresistible is to luxuriate in the extraordinarily imaginative approaches being applied to each theatrical moment. The magic is not in the stories themselves, but in how those stories are used to subvert our expectations, and therefore deal with what we consider to be normal in art and life. Director Zoe Pepper seems to imply that when we encounter the opposite of normal, an interrogation into who we truly are, comes to the fore. It is hard for humans to properly see ourselves, until a catalyst is introduced to turn us weird, and to force a deviation from the ordinary.

Performed by Ariadne Daff and Tim Watts, the simple text becomes springboard for experimentation, with their irrepressible desire to always manufacture something surprising, resulting in an experience that has us utterly mesmerised. The pair is outrageously inventive, both spirited in the kookiest way possible, and impossibly precise in their delivery of a technically demanding work. Sound by Phil Downing and music by Ash Gibson Greig are astonishing in their ambition and scope, daring to surpass other elements to become the most important and effective design aspects of the production. Jonathon Oxlade’s set and Richard Vabre’s lights manipulate our attention so that we cannot look away, keeping our sight intrigued and hopelessly engrossed for the entire duration.

The character Christian finds himself seduced by the performance of adult entertainer Neve, and responds by trying to dominate and consume her. At the theatre, we can never be sure how power dynamics can manifest themselves. Being capitalist, we enter with the subliminal notion that if someone is going to be the boss, the paying audience must surely be in charge. Art however, cannot let itself be subject only to market forces and the taste of the masses. It is responsible for moving discussions forward, to find advancements for our civilisation. For our society to progress, it seems artists are the only ones left willing to take the lead. We need the shock of the new, and The Irresistible is an excellent case in point.

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