It can be exciting to review a show which pushes traditional boundaries of "theatre". This one was billed as a "performance essay"; Noelle Janaczewska’s text is a strong piece of writing, but I’m not convinced that having Siren Theatre Company "perform" it was the best form of communication for the work.
Jane Phegan essentially recites the essay word by word. She has rehearsed well, and delivers the whole piece meaningfully and without a single fluff. This is reasonably to be expected of course, but deserves mention because it is a wordy essay, with a lot going on – including contemplation of a journey to the Amazon, details of the narrator’s life in Australia and growing up in the UK, and her father’s sad decline with Parkinson’s disease.
There was just too much to take in in the short space of time allocated. Listening to it delivered not at a podium, but on a stage as theatre – and therefore at a pace – I struggled to keep up with complex themes and literary references, denied the time to digest them which would come with simply reading the same piece.
It’s not as though the performance lends drama. The set is pretty: a backdrop of sea- or sky-coloured crushed silk, and a flotilla of tiny silver boats to the left, where scenes relating to exploring the Amazon are delivered. On the right, there's a pile of curiosity-inspiring books, some of which are quoted during the performance. But our narrator does nothing more dramatic than reading the books, or opening the curtains or picking up a little boat to muse on.
I’m sure if I were to read the essay, or even listen to it with headphones at leisure, I’d find it really worthwhile. But delivered on stage like this, at breakneck speed with little to watch or be engaged by, I don’t think the evidently insightful text is given the hearing it deserves.
This view is no statement on Phegan's performance – simply my reflection on the company’s decision to "stage" an essay. For me, this just isn’t theatre.