A Melbournian who wonders as I wander. I have spent a lot of life colouring in moments and take great pleasure in creative expression of experience. Interested in Design, Art, Film, Photography, Painting and all things French.
I have always considered myself a feminist from the moment the words 'the dishes are women's work' fell heavy from my brother's lips. In modern times, what this self-identification means has become a blur of fuzz and confusion. Ophelia Thinks Harder addresses this dizzy swirl of a philosophical full life crisis (as girls are adrift in it from birth).
The production is a creation of inner western Melbourne Theatre Company - Wit incorporated. This play speaks to their definition as an artist-led company. Political correctness does not censure, it is the content boldly explored.
This play is full of lines that need to be said by the right people. More meaning is woven into the play by being set in the Bluestone Church Artspace in Footscray.
The arches of the windows frame the view as you enter. Sound design by Belinda Campbell gives an ominous opening.
The silent contention of the woman is centred in the church. Here she has been both set apart from man, repudiated as temptress, Sainted and tangled into a war against herself. All that has held women back seeps from the architecture of this man-made construction. Its foundations, man-made interpretation of the mind of God and the esteem he places on human identity.
This subject is not one you are going to want to face uncomfortable or parched. Although the pews cosily arranged around the stage are hard blankets and cushions were available to share so you can settle in. You get to feel at home right away. The stage area was heated and the November chill outside the door was kept at bay. There were alcohol and drinks available. Soft drink $3, Coffee and tea $2 and water free. The audience sipped wine merrily and created background to the medieval narrative.
You could summarise the emotional mood of this production in the moments the most neglected French Ghost gets a chance to speak. Metaphorically, this ghost conveys centuries of silenced women's experience. She has trouble finding a starting point when she finally captures one character's ear. The pressure to succinctly express century's of voicelessness renders her momentarily speechless.
I see in this character a reflection of the actors and the audience. The old church was filled with sympathetic attention. The resulting experience is a barrage of disorientation. Shakespeare is twisted with wit into a thesis on what it means to be a feminist today.
I could follow feminism but I was shaky on my hamlet. Now, before you go digging up dusty school readers to cram in preparation, consider that you would have more luck digging up the entire set of Shakespeare's works - just that one title play is not going to cut it. This work by Jean Betts is so rich in subtext that it needs more than one sitting. The first viewing is like skimming the crema off the top of a delicious coffee. A second viewing would be savouring the subtler nuances further towards the bottom of the cup.
The talent of Sarah Clark - Jennifer Piper and Georgina Hanley.
The set and costume design through their simplicity, weave the world of the plot around the audience. With cinematographic continuity, the lighting, the colours and the props frame the characters.
The costumes squeeze the characters into their identity, the lighting accentuates or highlights the state of fitting in or squishing out of it. Clothes are such a perfect medium through which to address questions of identity. The sapphire blue and floral folds of satin that ensconce, flatter and shimmy or constrict and suffocate Ophelia's form visually express the desire to feel feminine and beautiful and be respected at the same time.
The range of male and female characters who shapeshift as chameleons give both genders sensitive consideration. The main point of flux is Ophelia's complaint - why can't we just all be people.
The convoluted plot lines iron out into an idyllic solution where Ophelia finds expression and purpose in the end. Characters are led to the brink of insanity trying to be the trinity of vamp, virgin and mother in the quest to satisfy the patriarchal desire and attain worldly fulfilment.
So much of the experience needs thorough contemplation. Ophelia's quest for meaning makes the audience think harder The power and fascination of the content delivered with such authority and presence will, however, stay in mind. Ophelia well and truly proves she is equal to the problem of defining herself and she leaves the audience with more authority to do the same.
The Bluestone Church is a hub of Maribyrnong arts and culture and a perfect home for a production that empowers the audience to discover and value their 'virginity' - being true to themselves and owning their right to self-expression. Separate from all there is to nut over and philosophise for nights afterwards on, this production leaves you feeling warm and like you were part of something. Something that is relatable to modern confusion whilst situating the ancient roots it came from. The words are Shakespearian but how they are said and by whom is cuttingly of today. Wit incorporated has certainly impressed me. It was a friendly immersion that everyone left glowing from.