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Review: Pond

[Published on Beat.com.au, October 11 2011]

Grit Theatre’s Pond could be a different production to the one I’ve read several lukewarm reviews of. And if it wasn’t for critics’ descriptions of the show’s notable set design, an apartment cum post-industrial wasteland, I’d be convinced that I’d wandered into the wrong theatre.

We open in darkness with a couple (Thomas Browne and Laura Hughes) kneeling on a bed. A slow strobe light intermittently illuminates their faces while they recite their moving-in-together vows – “We will look after each other. We will cook for each other… We will never talk about past employment… We will never go to bed angry… I won’t eat cashews, because I know you can’t”.

Their declarations of devotion are contrasted with the domestic ceremonies that follow. Employing physical theatre, the couple’s gestures emphasise the scene’s mundanity and ritual – synchronised changing of tracksuits, blank faces bathed in the laptops’ otherwordly glow, repetitive ordering of takeaway, and mutual grooming that is at once affectionate and animalistic. Throughout, white noise hangs at the peripheries of consciousness, growing increasingly disconcerting as the performance progresses.

Their gestures, too, become more violent in turn. The two writhe on walls, throwing themselves savagely against the plaster in the hope of feeling anything at all. But it is their wild interactions when they come together that I found most intriguing – their desperate search for skin, clawing at each other’s tracksuits, hoping to find a vestige of the person who once lay beneath.

Madeleine Worthington’s set is a triumph. Nature meets culture in an apartment littered with decaying computer monitors, dead appliances, cardboard boxes and parched plants. It is unclear whether this is the outcome of the couple’s obsessive attachment – that they have been driven mad by their isolation, leaving the technological detritus of many years to amass around them; or whether this dystopian vision is the outcome of our techno-fetishism, exploring the emotional distance engendered by our digital future.

While many reviewers criticized the show’s tempo (or rather lack of), it is only with the accumulation of these repetitions that the final scene could take on the power that it does. Pot plants plummet one-by-one from the ceiling. Garbage bags hanging from the roof are torn apart to shower the apartment with leaves. With a swift tug of the snaking cords, monitors and piles of debris come crashing to the ground. And it is here, with their world lying in tatters around them, that the couple finally kiss, the white noise at last ceasing to reveal the sound of their panting exhales.

Perhaps it’s just mid-20s malaise, but I was genuinely moved.

Pond will be staged from September 23 – October 8 at the Warehouse @ Fringe Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Tickets are $20 full price or $18 concession. For more information, visit melbournefringe.com.au.

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