Despite it's flaws, the true value of Midnight Feasts' Chrysalis is in challenging us to look in places we reflexively turn a blind eye to.
Image: (L-R) Jes Vandrempt, Mark Inwood, Georgia Cooper in Chrysalis. Photo (c) Prudence Upton.
On a busy day in the Emergency ward, staff are less than impressed when Glenn, a non-verbal cerebral palsy sufferer, arrives on their ward. Their barely-disguised contempt for the inconvenience is palpable. Glenn’s inability to speak and involuntary spasming are interpreted by the staff as wilful non-compliance and he is treated as if he is complicit in his own illness. Glenn’s experience in the ward provides the central framework for several other stories and short vignettes to intersect.
Midnight Feast is a new incarnation of an old theatre group, the Can You See Me Theatre Company, which was affiliated with Allambie’s Cerebral Palsy Alliance. This year they have decided to strike out on their own with their first narrative work Chrysalis, which is named more as a coming-out statement for the company than any relation to the events portrayed in the play.
The stories we see in Chrysalis are as diverse as it’s cast, as you would expect any work based on it’s performer’s real life experiences to be. This diversity often veers off into randomness and, despite being reasonably entertaining and containing more than a few moments of comic gold, the whole work does not quite hold together in a cohesive way. It has the aesthetic of an 80s variety show, where the purpose seems to be more about giving each performer their 15 seconds in the spotlight at the expense of audience retention. Midnight Feast’s mission statement boldly declares that they exist for the sole purpose of creating new opportunities for performance artists living with significant disabilities. This focus on the artist versus the audience comes through very clearly in the work. Whilst ordinarily I would consider such an approach self-indulgent on the part of the artist, that self-indulgence might be entirely warranted concerning disabled artists who, in ordinary life, are so often reduced to invisible and voiceless beings.
However justified this approach might be, the downside is that there is very little emotional connection to the audience. As an audience member, I didn’t experience the work, instead it was dictated to me, a method which seemed at odds with the subject matter of a non-verbal character. There were only two points when I felt empathy for the performers – first when Glenn is devoured by flies. This was one of the few times when we had insight into Glenn’s subjective experience of the world – most of the play focused on his external experiences. The second was Nick Lewis’ rendition of John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’, an anthem which seemed so emotionally and thematically in line with the performers, it should have been the productions' empowering and triumphant grand finale, but instead, Chrysalis closes with a dissociated monologue which borders on preachiness, by Glenn, via a voice-of-god style narrator.
As a piece of theatre, Chrysalis didn’t quite reach it’s lofty goals. The true value of Chrysalis is in challenging us to look in places we reflexively turn a blind eye to. I was brought up with the custom that it was rude to stare, but Chrysalis highlights how such well-intentioned manners effectually render it’s characters invisible. To have such everyday etiquette challenged makes the play worth seeing, despite of it’s imperfections.
Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5
Presented by Midnight Feast
Sydney Opera House
17 November 2017
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level