Review: Burn Witch Burn (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 7 – 30, 2022
Playwrights: Tasnim Hossain, Claudia Osborne (based on a story by Fritz Leiber)
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Sheree da Costa, Daniel Gabriel, Alex Packard, Tivy Siripanich and Alex Stamell
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

When Norman discovers that his successes as a lecturer, are due to the witchcraft that his wife practises, things begin to unravel. Forces light and dark are unleashed, as a chain of secrets get revealed, in Burn Witch Burn by Tasnim Hossain and Claudia Osborne, a work of experimental physical theatre, based on a 1943 story (and 1962 film) by Fritz Leiber.

With an emphasis on atmosphere over narrative, the storytelling becomes nebulous. There may not be much certainty as to what exactly is being said, but the production is often unpredictable and intriguing, able to entertain for most of its duration. Emma White’s set design and Veronique Bennett’s lights offer visual brilliance, inviting our eyes to explore every furtive corner of the space. Chrysoulla Markouli’s exhaustive sound design lures us into the ethereal, where we attempt to connect on a plane that is decidedly esoteric and ephemeral.

Directed by Osborne, Burn Witch Burn is a quirky and charming presentation, although the macabre qualities that it tries to render, prove to be less than affecting. Where it intends to portray horror, the show can feel somewhat hollow. There is meaning to be found in this tale of secret women’s business, but Burn Witch Burn is hesitant to make anything obvious, choosing to keep many of its concerns under wraps. The cast of five embodies that mystery well, willing to be looked at but not really seen, with performer Sheree da Costa leaving a particularly strong impression, full of mesmerising intensity and admirable physical discipline.

In some ways, the witches in the show are an allegory for the ways in which power is distributed and  enforced. Feminists want everyone to embrace their ideals of equality. We believe that a fair world is the best way forward, but there are many in positions of privilege who will not acquiesce to the idea, that the relinquishment of power is often a good thing. It seems that we are a species seduced by injustice, and a destination of peace is therefore impossible. Activism work can never be complete, it has to be in perpetual motion, whether in the confrontation of others, or of the self.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Destroy, She Said (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Mar 2 – 19, 2022
Original Author: Marguerite Duras
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Gabriel Alvarado, Adriane Daff, Andreas Lohmeyer, Tommy Misa, Grace Smibert
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Elisabeth is convalescing, in a hotel some distance from the city. There are mysterious guests observing her, and an equally mysterious forest nearby, that seems to cast a spell over everyone in its vicinity. Marguerite Duras’ book and film Destroy, She Says from 1969 tells a story about the convergence of loss and obsession, in between competing worlds where Elisabeth must eventually find a state of surrender.

In this stage adaptation by Claudia Osborne, the surreality of Duras’ mise-en-scène is made immediate and material, preserving the sinister beauty of the original, but with an addition of a very theatrical sense of humour, that makes the viewing experience both fascinating and amusing. There is so much to be curious about, in Osborne’s take on Destroy, She Says and so much that engages, but not necessarily through intellect. We too, have to find a way to surrender to its visceral allure, and trust in things that we know so little about. The result is sublime, however strange the ride can be.

Production design by Kelsey Lee and Grace Deacon melds old-world affluence with a decidedly contemporary sensibility that is both sensual and ironic, for a presentation memorable for its visual impact. Lee’s lights, together with a sound design by Angus Mills, usher the audience into a dream frequency, where we connect with impulses rather than logic, remarkable in being able to make us find coherence within the bizarre, and thoroughly enjoy it. 

Adriane Daff and Grace Smibert are the mesmerising leads, as Alissa and Elisabeth respectively, both invulnerably confident in their experimental approach, and unassailably impressive with their commanding presences. The women are individually captivating, but absolutely riveting when working as a single unit; we feel as though privy to a magical secret language that they have devised. Supporting players Gabriel Alvarado, Andreas Lohmeyer and Tommy Misa, are no less effective in their contributions, all bringing surprising and quirky elements to the stage, delivering bouts of laughter whilst provoking us with their interminably quizzical choices.

Destroy, She Says is challenging, but it is kind. It reaches out with an unusual vocabulary, in order that we may communicate differently, and perhaps attain something altogether more exalted, in this moment of congregation in an artistic space. We are left wondering why all that makes this show unusual, is not more usually encountered in our theatres, but we understand that anything normalised, simply ceases to be special. Art in this city needs to dare to embrace unconventionality. If we want only to interact with the familiar and the safe, the accountant’s office might be a better option. In this particular theatrical occasion though, we celebrate the best of human creativity, and revel in the boundless capacity of our imaginations.

www.belvoir.com.au / www.fervour.net.au