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Ranters Theatre: “Come Away With Me to the End of the World” review. Competed as part of the audience critic program.
The audience critic program. I would like to thank Malthouse Theatre and Ranters Theatre for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this program. It has been a fantastic experience. I would also like to thank my fellow critics for their insights and Adriano Cortese and Patrick Moffatt for taking their time to listen to us.
We start off with a blank canvas. A wast wooden platform is erected in the Beckett Theatre and the set pieces – the crude cardboard mountains, the foam boulders, and other assorted items – are placed in neat rows on either side of the makeshift stage. The set up puts you in mind of a factory floor, and the effect is amplified by the theatre’s industrial interior. Before the lights are dimmed, the actors appear “in the wings”, and we witness the private final moments before the performance commences. All the elements are here. Worlds are ready to be constructed.
“Come away with me to the end of the world” is an invitation full of sentiment and longing, a desire to escape. The story unfolds across remote, peaceful settings, ideal for meditation, self-discovery and revelation.
While the prologue presents us with a deconstructed view of the play, a blueprint of sorts, ordered and clear; what follows is anything but. There is no narrative, only disjointed conversations, punctuated by moments of long, comfortable silence. Subjects range from mundane to fantastical, from comical to tragic. An unasked question seems to hover over the performers and the audience: “What makes us alive?” Is it the way we experience our physical world, or bodies? Or is it the little details, the rituals of our daily lives? Is it trauma? Fear? Love? Frustration? Is it our experience of loss and death?
The three performers – Beth, Patrick and Heather – seem to unconsciously search for the answers, as they share their stories and confide in each other and the audience. And in the process, in between the lines, they start to reveal certain things about themselves. I am sure that each audience member will experience and interpret the performance differently, but for me there was an anxiety behind Beth’s chatter, grit behind Patrick’s humour, and sadness behind Heather’s warmth.
What I found frustrating is that, even through the performers share personal stories, which should make the experience intimate and even cathartic, for the most part they remain detached and rarely truly allow the audience in. There is a missed opportunity to make a genuine, intimate connection. Words are spoken but, but they are never quite the right ones, and too much remains unsaid.
Note: in its promotional materials, Malthouse classified “Come away with me…” as voyeuristic theatre. I felt a significant disparity between this branding and the performance I saw. During the audience critic program roundtable discussion, Adriano confirmed that the terminology is incorrect. The audience are invited to listen in on the intimate conversations, and the actual dynamic of the performance is very different to the one suggested by the Malthouse.
There were several moments that stand out for me: Beth smelling Heather’s hair; Patrick (whom I connected with the most) recounting the routine of preparing breakfast for his partner; Heather’s silence and glances towards her companions, which spoke to me more than her words; the trio spontaneously erupting into song; and, of course, the dancing.
As Beth describes the Tarantella moves, limping across the stage to illustrate the “spider bite” move or playfully “moving the spider around” with her toes, three dancers rush on to the stage in a flurry of colour and movement. At this point being a silent observer becomes difficult, as you really wish to join in.
Tarantella feels like the crescendo of “Come away with me”, and nothing that happens afterwards matches the rapturous joy of this moment. As Beth, elated and out of breath, exclaims: “This is life!” you have to agree with her, and wonder if the subsequent conversations and search for meaning are even necessary. The most powerful emotions we experience exist on a pre-linguistic level, and Tarantella manages to say as much, if not more, than words.
“Come away with me to the end of the world” is light and sometimes ridiculous (cue the leafy costumes, fake beards and erupting mini-volcanoes), but there is a darker undercurrent. Perhaps my perception was coloured by Pasolini’s poem Diary, an excerpt from which appears, projected onto the backdrop, at the start of the play. It’s a bleak choice of opening words for a performance which, at least on the surface, is light-hearted. Perhaps the juxtaposition is deliberate.
Grow up? Never – never – ! Like existence itself which never matures – staying always green from splendid day to splendid day – I can only stay true to the stupendous monotony of the mystery. That’s why I’ve never abandoned myself to happiness, that’s why in the anxiety of my sins I’ve never been touched by real remorse. Equal, always equal to the inexpressible at the very source of what I am.
I spent a long time trying to make sense of “Come away with me…”, and as I am writing this review, I am starting to realise that maybe I don’t need to understand or to analyse this performance. Perhaps, witnessing it was enough. “Come away with me…” doesn’t have a structure or a purpose. There is no beginning and no end. As the lights go out at the end, you get a feeling that they will come back on in a moment and the whole thing will start anew, and will continue on and on on an endless loop.