Review: Duckpond (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 22 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Tabitha Woo
Director: Alison Bennett
Cast: Danen Engelenberg, Melissa Hume, Rizcel Gagawanan, Rudolf Hendrikx, Samantha Lambert
Images by Alex Smiles

Theatre review
Ingrid seems to have survived a plane crash, except she wakes up in a surreal landscape, and begins to see things in a very different light. In Duckpond, playwright Tabitha Woo interrogates the notion of reality, with a particular interest in the way religion and technology not only construct meanings for our existence, but are in fact totalitarian determinants of how we perceive the world. We are ducks in a pond designed by false gods and technocrats, unable to swim out of a paradigm created by others, for the benefit of others.

It is an evocative allegory, charmingly illustrated, in a play enjoyable for its absurdity, if slightly too coy with its humour. Alison Bennett’s idiosyncratic direction delivers a production memorable for its kooky style, with frequent disruptions to theatrical conventions, that help us look into the nature and origins of normality as a general concept. Actor Melissa Hume offers an effective blend of ordinariness and inquisitiveness, in her depictions of a state of awakening, as flight attendant Ingrid begins to discover the artifice behind everything that wishes to pass as real. Her companion is a duck, played by Rizcel Gagawanan, sprightly and amusing with her representation of blissful ignorance.

Humans have an interminable desire for truth, but we are often distracted by the comfort of certainty. Capitalistic forces seduce us with that numbing gratification of phoney answers that they provide, in the form of certainties that rarely contain more than a semblance of truth. They know that when we stop questioning, we are turned into complacent consumers and obedient subjects, easily manipulated to serve their interests, as we languish in a perpetual and frustrating blindness.

5 Questions with Rizcel Gagawanan and Melissa Hume

Rizcel Gagawanan

Melissa Hume: If the story of your life was written as an internet article, what would its clickbait headline be?
Rizcel Gagawanan: I hope it would be very similar to articles about Kim Convenience‘s Simu Liu –  “My Life from Anxiety-ridden Accountant to Marvel’s next Superhero”.

One of the themes Duckpond investigates is how we use distraction as a coping mechanism – do you consciously or unconsciously distract yourself and what are your go-to phone/internet distractions?
I’m always consciously and unconsciously distracting myself. Instagram! Instagram! Instagram! Then a bit of Facebook. Some puppy and foodie videos. Then back on Instagram.

Why are you an artist/actor/performer?
The answer to this constantly changes for me, but in all realness, storytelling and play give me the most joy. I also do this because I want other people who are like me to see that being an artist/actor/performer is possible. 

You recently gave up social media for a week as a personal goal for the Equity Wellness Challenge – how did you find the experience?
It was very difficult. Not being on Instagram and Facebook made me feel so disconnected from the world that it gave me anxiety and a sense of FOMO. I wanted people to know what I was up to and I wanted to know what other people were up to. The experience made me realise how addicted I am to Instagram and how it distracts me from being present in the moments I’m in. I’m not fully recovered because I’m still Insta-storying like a 14-year-old. But I’m more aware of it now. Hopefully someday I’ll ease off it more. 

In what ways can you relate to your character Duck and what have you found challenging?
I relate to Duck’s love of bread. I love all types of bread. To be honest I love bread more than rice (yes, very un-Asian of me. It’s blasphemous). Another thing I relate to but also found challenging was Duck’s addiction and submission, and her journey in breaking out of it. It brought to light my own addictions that I hide behind and the indoctrinated beliefs that once controlled my view of the world. 

Melissa Hume

Rizcel Gagawanan: If you could only live on bread alone, what type of bread would you choose?
Melissa Hume: I’d be nutritionally strategic and go with a dark rye bread with lots of seeds and nuts.

What common how-to or fact have you googled that you should have known IRL (like it was common sense)?
UMMM so I may have just googled “what is the most nutritious bread”…

The other day I got myself really confused and no joke googled “what century are we in”.
I also do lots of word related checks too: “apart vs a part” “inquiry vs enquiry” “a lot vs alot” and lots of definitions. 

When killing time on the train or in a food line, what are the top 3 things that you look up on your phone/internet?
Instagram number 1, then Facebook and my third would be internet (window) shopping. I love to go through hundreds of clothes listed on say ASOS or The Iconic, pick out a whole new wardrobe’s worth of clothes, look at them all in the shopping cart, decide which ones I love the most and then… NEVER buy any of them. It’s a great time waster. 

If Ingrid was on Survivor what would her strategy be?
Ingrid would make lots of alliances. She’d also try a number of different strategies and as a result she’d confuse the other competitors who wouldn’t take her as a serious threat until it was too late!

What have you enjoyed about the rehearsal process, and what has challenged you the most?
I have loved working with such open, curious and playful creatives – the rehearsal room has felt incredibly free! Tabitha’s script has been so much fun to unpack but it’s also incredibly clever and relevant. People really need to come and see this!!!

What has challenged me the most has been the character work with Ingrid. Early on I realised we are extremely similar and some of our shared traits and tendencies are actually things I don’t like about myself… a very large one being our innate social AWKWARDNESS… and at first that was very challenging for me to lean into but now I’ve been able to embrace it.

Rizcel Gagawanan and Melissa Hume can be seen in Duckpond , by Tabitha Woo.
Dates: 22 – 26 Oct, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: A Westerner’s Guide To The Opium Wars (Thirty Five Square Theatre)

Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 25 – 30, 2017
Playwright: Tabitha Woo
Director: Kevin Ng
Cast: Tabitha Woo

Theatre review
In Tabitha Woo’s mostly autobiographical work A Westerner’s Guide To The Opium Wars, it is not the historical event in China mid-1800’s that takes our focus. The conflict between East and West that Woo is concerned with, is a personal one. Being of both Asian and European heritage, Woo’s understanding of her own Australian identity can be a complicated one, shaped by our society’s persistent rejection of affiliations with neighbouring cultures.

As Woo traces her lineal descent, through Tasmania, Malaysia and China, we begin to gain a greater understanding of our collective character as a singular yet diverse nation. We think about the meanings of migration, and the tension between having to leave behind that which is unsatisfactory, and the need to remember where we come from. In the construction of new identities as we flee from one place to another, a deliberate renunciation occurs, of things and memories best left behind, but the nature of time requires that we return eventually, usually momentarily, for a more honest evaluation of states of being.

The show is often fascinating in the way it uncovers decades and centuries of information behind Woo’s smiling exterior. Its juxtapositions of cultural influences from all over the world makes for a rich experience, although transitions between the theatrical forms it explores, could be handled more imaginatively. As performer, Woo makes up for her reticent presence with clarity of thought and intention, always ensuring that our understanding of her work is accurate and comprehensive.

Each person carries with them, ghosts from generations past, yet we can only regard our acquaintances with a sense of egalitarian homogeneity. We have no choice but to make assumptions of uniformity in how we deal with the world, but in relation to the self, a thorough authenticity is necessary or existence can turn unbearable. How a person wakes up every morning, depends on how much they respect the mind and body that is being nourished. The better we know ourselves, whether as individuals or as communities, the better a life we can create.