The Catalyst Festival

Deakin The Luxury Resort of Doctor Jedd - photo by Jason SmithThe Catalyst Festival is a showcase of theatre from the graduate students of Deakin University’s Bachelor of Creative Arts (Drama). The students have been working in groups for the past few months – talking, writing, and rehearsing, until as an ensemble they have built a piece ready for performance.

As was explained to the audience on the final night, teaching acting is not the purpose with this project. Rather, the eight groups have strived to push their devising skills to make theatrical art that is challenging yet coherent, with a unique voice – for them and an audience.

Up first was, Code 33. A police procedural of sorts, but told from the suspects’ side, the play eschewed what you might think of as “theatrical” elements. Instead their murder mystery was grounded more in realism. A sensitive piece, care needed to be taken so to not let the performances get too hushed. Kat King was delightfully hard boiled in a good turn as a police detective.

Then I Woke Up, took one of the most clichéd phrases in fiction as its title, then made something original to subvert it. Showing the trauma of a man haunted by his past, this piece had some nice stylised elements (although they threatened to become ponderous in moments). The emotional connective tissue represented by fairy lights pulled taught across the stage, only to be broken and flung away at the end, was a beautiful image.

Potatoes may be a starchy and tuberous, but, Desiree, was lovely and humorous. Set in a near future where a Barista using the wrong milk is a criminal offense, Sonja Mounsey, Hayley Tait, and Lilia Kennedy devised a series of funny vignettes, culminating in performance art by way of a mashed potato, pasta, and watermelon bath. While they were clearly having a lot of fun, tightening of the cues and their physicality would have really made this sing.

While the culinary misadventures of the previous item were being mopped away, the audience moved to a different space for, Seaglass. Here, the ensemble had given their seating a fractured geometry – chairs rippling out from the centre. It reflected the piece itself – a glimpse into a family falling apart while some desperately try to hold it together.

There were some powerful moments here, both visual and in performance. It was difficult for the piece to hold any momentum, however, as there were a lot of ritualistic turns – singing, moving, pouring water from bowl to bowl – that occasionally dampened, rather than complimented, the action.

Killing Time was set on a large patch of red earth. A tree back in the corner, its dry branches like tendrils of bone stretching brittle into the sky. A fragile future is on display. The actors are in positions of supplication as the audience comes in. 8-bit music plays and they start to move. Set in a time where gaming has progressed past religion to become life and language, there were some interesting qualities to the piece. The set was great, and the shadow play was a stunning discovery.

They Linger was a gothic horror that had some good visuals as well as live piano. A ghost witch character moved across the stage in a lurching sort of staccato. It was a compelling image to begin the piece with and the performers worked hard to present more of those as it progressed.

 The Luxury Resort of Doctor Jedd was more successful in exploring their themes through the action on stage. The oversized video in the background was fantastic, as was the mashup of futuristic and nostalgic elements on stage. The soundscape was a nice touch – a collage of voiceover, music, silence, and other snippets such as the warble of an ultrasound. The ending held together for the most part, clearly the result of a strong ensemble working well together.

Fifty Years of Food Production You Can Trust began in darkness, the four performers talking aloud. Squares of light fade up and Beagle Boy serial numbers on their shirts reveal them to be prisoners. Over the next 30 minutes we get an exploration of incarceration woven together with a splintered monologue about an experience of almost drowning.

It’s a frantic piece in places, the characters taking turns, near-rabid, in front of a live microphone on stage. A camera on the mic shows their faces like an exaggerated home movie, like an outtake from the David Lynch film, Inland Empire. Behind the mic are shafts of Grad Wrap stretched across the stage. Like a Lynch film, the narrative is not always clear, but the ideas being explored are strong. All four actors did great work, a fascinating piece to end the festival on.

The Catalyst Festival
Phoenix Theatre – Deakin University, Burwood
Season: 1 – 3 December 2016

For more information, visit: www.deakin.edu.au for details.

Image: The Luxury Resort of Doctor Jedd – photo by Jason Smith

Review: David Collins

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