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Published October 17, 2019

Observing poetic literature transform into stage productions can lead to some interesting ideas. The advantage with the written word as a medium is that it is possible to convey so much depth and meaning without having to rely on dialogue or actors and script-writers translating things into a medium where the words change meanings, and the impossible must become possible (or something poetic like that). Fortunately, Savannah Bay manages to convey the strange and disjointed sense that surrounds dementia, tragedy, and love.

Of course, any show that opens with an Édith Piaf number just screams symbolism and French existential angst, so it iss a good way to get the audience in the zone.

Straight off the bat, it must be stated that the entire thing can be seen as a view of the world with dementia – things change, the story blurs and meanders around, and things that were fixed in stone slowly melt away and are revealed to be nothing more than blended imaginings. There are hints of tragedy as well, enough to keep the audience fixated and breathless. The fact that an entire room of teenagers (inner-city Melbourne teenagers admittedly, but teenagers nonetheless) were completely silent during the performance should be evidence of how this show manages to draw out the tragedy and the mystery. What happened? Did anything happen? How does it all connect? Questions that were danced in front of the audience (literally in some cases), whilst the main actress would smile or shake her head and indicate another forgotten forgotten moment.

On the topic of acting, the two woman-show is very well handled. Although there were one or two extremely minor line mix-ups, they were hardly noticeable, and were more than compensated by everything else they do. Particularly poignant in the show are the moments when the younger aide/granddaughter/carer (it is never made clear, and played by Annie Thorold) is trying not to cry, whilst the older Madeleine (Brenda Palmer) tries to remember, or lies about her failing memory to avoid painful discussion. But the actors clearly know their craft, and really make the most of what is quite a minimal stage and set, carrying the day with the dialogue and themselves. Sound, lighting, and props are essentially there only to add minor flourishes to the dialogue, which naturally means everything is in focus. Thankfully, even though everything is heavy with poetic symbolism, the acting allows you to feel what is going on.

Overall, a poetic and moving performance. Well acted and well produced, the show is something that explores dementia and existential angst in an effective manner, and clearly draws effectively from the source material.

Savannah Bay is performing at La Mama Theatre in Carlton from 17/10 – 27/10. Click here for more info and tickets.

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