Thursday, February 23, 2012

Theatre: Atishoo

Directed by Rachel Riggs
Performed by Anne Marie Biagioni and Adam Bennett
Subiaco Arts Centre Studio
Until March 3

The great “Muse of Fire” speech that begins Shakespeare’s Henry V – on our minds because of Propeller’s mighty production at The Maj – is an exhortation to the imagination of its audience: “Think, when we talk of horses/That you see them printing their proud hoofs in the receiving earth.”
That extension of the imagination is the great promise of the theatre, perhaps the primary reason it continues to beguile us in the face of film and other media far better able to represent reality. It’s more than simply the “willing suspension of disbelief”; it’s the positive benefit of the work our minds do to imagine a world complete from the poor scraps put before us on the stage.
That power, and the benefit it brings, was never clearer to me than at a moment in DNA’s wonderful little Atishoo. A tiny girl near me was watching the show’s performer, Anne Marie Biagioni, and puppeteer, Adam Bennett, waving sheets on the floor and above an outsize tissue box while they swayed back and forth. She turned to her mum and asked, “Is that the sea?” There was a few seconds’ silence, and then she exclaimed, triumphantly, “It IS the sea!” What marvels had happened to her in those few seconds when she, maybe for the first time in her life, realised that something could be something else, if you imagined it. I later found out she was all of two and a half years old.
Atishoo is a show for pre-school-age kids, by which DNA, its producers, mean the two-and-a-half to six year-olds their work in Australia and the UK focuses on. But it was a brilliant treat for the more than fifty years older kid in me as well. The story of a little girl with the flu whose fevered dreams take her to places far and wide is simply told but as marvellously varied as the landscapes in a child’s mind. Starting in the all-white hues of bedsheets, tissues and illness, the girl takes flight, in a literal interpretation of her sleeping thoughts, to far skies, lands and seas. Colour returns, at first as little flashes and then in a riot, as her spirits lift and her illness passes. The rhythm of the piece intensifies as her appetite and spirits return to health.
The production looks as though it could be staged at home by a bunch of kids in a cubby-house using stuff immediately to hand. An ordinary pedestal fan generates storms; the sun and moon are those paper lightshades you get from Ikea; there’s toilet paper and tissue paper everywhere.
The inventiveness of director Rachel Riggs and Bennett belies the ordinariness of the objects they use to express it. And in Biagioni they have the perfect performer to bring it all to life. Beguiling and toothy, she flies and swims, shivers and sweats, and looks out at her world with the wide eyes of a child.
While all this was going on, a room full of kids were entranced. Some of them were overcome with fascination and stood up or scampered down to the front for a better view; the questions to mums and dads flew thick and fast. And all the time, you could almost hear those young minds ticking over, faster and faster.
By popular acclamation, Les Studios de Cirque’s Place des Anges has been the big highlight of the festival. Allow me to nominate the superb Atishoo as its little one. 

Pleased to see that my colleague Robin Pascoe was similarly delighted with Atishoo; his take in the West Australian is here . 

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