Song for a Weary Throat (Melbourne Festival)

I wasn’t sure whether to write about Song For a Weary Throat or not, since the show I saw was the final performance of its Melbourne Festival season,

And if, somehow, you hadn’t read about this piece devised and performed by The Rawcus Ensemble and Invenio Singers, (unlikely, since it won rave reviews and a couple of Green Room Awards last year for the original Theatreworks season) and missed it this time round, it just seems like rubbing salt in the wound to say You Missed A Bloody Brilliant Beautiful piece of theatre. But you did.

An old dance hall, gone to seed, chairs, a stand for the the detritus of dances gone rubble..

woman writes on a blackboard a quote from Dante

found myself lost in a wood so dark, the way ahead was blotted out.

Then everything explodes.

I’ve never been frightened by light before. 

Here, it’s an assault. Smashing through darknessripping, shocking, abrupt, terrifying. 

Then darkness again.

Another blast of light reveals bodies strewn across the floor.


Between every blast, another image – another precise,disconcerting configuration of bodies. The numbers vary, sometimes observing, sometimes observed.

Sometimes the images evoke distress, sometimes unease, sometimes panic.

This piece is a response to trauma, despair, shock. The getting up, then again, the fall.

From my own experience of PTS I recognise this. It feels right to me.

Kate Sulan’s direction layers rhythm, behaviour, attitude.With the movement, at times, suggesting a marking of time, dooming to repetition. And if the repeat motifs owe something to Pina Bausch, that’s an ancestry to be proud of.

It’s eerie, beautiful, sad, strange. There are moments of hope and childish joy, though these are often rejected, rebuffed by those who cannot hold to hope.

But this is a truly collaborative production. The sound and lighting (realised by Rachel Burke after the original lighting design by Richard Vabreanchor the performers yet, perversely, liberate them.

Composition by Jethro Woodward and Gian Slater is quite extraordinary. You feel the sound through your whole body. Which is not to say it’s loud, though the sound is sometimes abrupt and shocking, usually it’s an underscore, drones and rumbles you forget until  you feel it there, from beneath.

The three members of the Invenio Singers (Josh Kyle, Louisa Rankin and Gian Slater) are exceptional. Their interventions in the action renew and redirect.

The interplay of live and prerecorded elements never takes over from the work of the performers (sometimes the singers perform with the dancers, sometimes they accompany, but the interweaving subtlety of some of the score makes you realise how liberating a well mixed mic can be.

Sudden stuttering movement frames. Shards of meaning. 

In some ways it’s possible to see the piece as being comprised of a single idea executed through various theatre games. Maybe that’s what it was. But the resulting composition – you have to call it that, it’s not simply dance or theatre or sound –is no mere exercise. It’s cohesive and powerful.  A cry from the heart and soul as much as the throat.

The Dante quote is beautiful, but I heard Dorothy Fields. The rueful stubborn fuck-you-ness of:

Pick yourself up,

Dust yourself off,

Start all over again.

And I heard Walt Whitman. 

And here it felt like a defiant claiming of space, a demand to be heard, to be truly seen:

too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;

sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Sitting (ok, by this time I’m standing, and applauding wildly), in that theatre, I thought: how good to feel you’re not alone.

Season ended




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