Review: Undertaking (Sydney Fringe Festival)

Venue: HPG Festival Hub (Erskineville NSW), Sep 6 – 30, 2017
Playwrights: Duncan Maurice, Sharon Zeeman
Director: Duncan Maurice
Cast: Rizcel Gagawanan, Jasper Garner Gore, Moreblessing Maturure, Benjamin Wang, Sharon Zeeman

Theatre review
In a very large disused office, an audience gathers to solve the mystery of 11 murders. There are clues littered everywhere, and we roam around using mobile phones as torches, with suspicious characters in our midst who may or may not be part of the show that we have come to see. Over the course of an hour, drama unfolds, with the cast revealing itself, in their highly unorthodox presentation of a contrastingly conventional serial killer story.

Duncan Maurice and Sharon Zeeman’s Undertaking works with the enveloping of space around bodies, which is the essential nature of the theatrical art form. Strangers congregate, awaiting time and space to transform in the hands of collaborating artists, who have constructed a plan, to orchestrate a process of communication above the mundane. In Maurice and Zeeman’s vision, passivity is the ruin of both art and life. To be a participant of their staging, our spectatorship extends beyond the mind. A kinetic response is required of us, but how much we are willing to give, always remains a personal choice.

The journey fluctuates between moments of bustling activity, and creepy stillness. Some of us are compelled to make things happen, while others are content to wait for the next bout of drama. The wandering group consists of personalities who engage ardently in the investigative process, as well as those who observe quietly; we choose our own adventure. The show is most effective when actors are in close proximity, but the space is large and we are too often left to our own devices. Musical director David Herrero creates an omnipresent soundscape that assists in keeping us involved, especially potent when tensions escalate in the closing minutes. Actor Benjamin Wang is memorable for his terrifying depiction of a man on the brink of death.

Undertaking is a spirited work that takes seriously, its artistic responsibility to inspire its viewer. It is democratic and political, and even if the immediate narrative in the “whodunnit” genre can seem perfunctory, the experience is unforgettable. Whenever the making of art falls into repetitive predictability, we must call for a new challenge. Immersive theatre is just the way to tackle the tedious obedience, that has today become so pervasive.

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5 Questions with Rizcel Gagawanan and Jasper Garner Gore

Rizcel Gagawanan

Jasper Garner Gore: Describe Undertaking in five words.
Rizcel Gagawanan: Mysterious. Unexpected. Exciting. Unpredictable. Enlightening.

Who should see this show and why?
First of all, people who love thrillers, scary movies etc. People who are looking to have a good time and take a risk. People who are okay with putting themselves in a situation where they don’t know what’s going to happen. And anyone who loves theatre! You go to watch shows to experience something different and new and this show will definitely be a theatre experience you’ve never had before. Immersive theatre is quite a unique form, there’s not many happening in Sydney so this could be people’s chance to see it for the first time.

What has been the most challenging part of rehearsing this show?
Our rehearsal process hasn’t been the typical rehearsal process that I’m used to, like you get your script, you memorise your lines, you work out your blocking etc. There’s a script and a plot but a lot of the scene stuff we’ve put together through improv and collaboration which is a first for me but it’s been super fun. But I would say the most challenging has been trying to rehearse with an audience that’s not there yet. We won’t know how it’s going to go and what’s going to happen until we get our audience on previews, opening night and every night the show is on. To prepare, you can come up with all the possibilities but there’s always going to be something that the audience will give that you didn’t think of, so that’s scary but also exciting at the same time.

What is the scariest place you have performed in?
This place. I have always performed on a stage with a spotlight and cues and wings. This is immersive theatre, so there’s no wings to hide in or take a break here! There’s no backstage or green room. You are on “stage” the whole time. Also when I first came to this space I was already freaked out even in daylight. The space has a weird feel to it. It’s even worse when all the lights are out.

Are you afraid of the dark?
Yes.

Jasper Garner Gore

Rizcel Gagawanan: Since we can’t give too much away about this show, describe Undertaking in 5 words.
Jasper Garner Gore: A Big Scary Space, Murders.

Because the show is “immersive theatre”, how do you feel about not performing on a stage but performing with the audience?
I’ve done a little bit of this sort of this stuff before, nothing quite as involved. I think it makes rehearsing interesting because you do have to guess a bit, it’s like rehearsing a dance without the other person you’re gonna be dancing with. But it’s also really really exciting because I think like there is an appetite for this kind of work and for work that activates environments and audiences this way. And you feel kind of like you’re in the vanguard of something which is fun.

What’s the funniest, weirdest or most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you on stage?
One time I was doing a production of Amadeus and I had taken my costume stockings home to wash and I left them there. And I realised shortly before I was getting dressed to go on that I didn’t have any stockings. So I had to turn to the girl playing Constanze, who’s a friend, and be like, “please give me your stockings”, not her show stockings but her actual human stockings and they didn’t quite go all the way up, they covered just above my knee. So the whole show the pantaloons I was wearing were very breezy. During the whole thing I was worried, y’know, hoping no one would look up my pants, ‘cause they would just see bare thigh. That probably wasn’t the worst but it was pretty bad.

What’s great about rehearsing and performing in the space in The Enclosure at the HPG Festival Hub?
Nutting it out. We’re solving a novel space, which is super fun, finding out where you can play, where you can be seen, where you can be heard. It’s new, it’s exciting and it’s weird. It’s a weird place with all sorts of strange possibilities.

Jasper, as the king of puns, can you make a pun or a funny dad joke about Undertaking?
Undertaking? Ha, the morgue the merrier!

Rizcel Gagawanan and Jasper Garner Gore are appearing in Undertaking, part of the Sydney Fringe Festival 2017.
Dates: 6 – 30 September, 2017
Venue: Sydney Fringe HPG Festival Hub