Review: Death Throes, Blue Room Theatre (WA)

Nerida Dickinson

A conceptual performance results from playful collaboration between three strong voices.
Review: Death Throes, Blue Room Theatre (WA)

Performers and creators Julia Croft, Joe Lui and Harriet Gillies. Image: Tasha Faye.

Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies and Joe Lui each drive themselves to develop distinct concepts and now combine the emphases of their separate artistic practices in Death Throes, an intimate and chaotic subjective reflection on the end of our current society. In a series of distinct mini-performances, discovery of common themes or the show’s meaning is left to the individual observer.

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Opening with an off-kilter, spoken word tease on ‘what 90s kids know’, an abrupt change of mood and pace opens a talking heads panel. With three disjointed and overlapping treatments covering topics including the patriarchy, Keynesian economic theory, the human compulsion for narrative, astronomic and atomic theory and the challenges of performing an orchestral triangle solo at short notice, performative subversion creeps into the earnest banality of generic panel rounds. With a subtle underlying soundtrack, straight faces contrast with voices that play with speech patterns and rhythms, variations of pitch competing in claims of authority to ridiculous extremes. The trio clears the furniture from the stage to return wearing incongruous golden costumes, creating a feature of the central round shag pile rug by travelling around it with measured slow strides, each performer demanding attention with fixed and disconcerting eye contact into the audience. The circuits continue, gradually increasing in pace without change in aspect. Panting for breath, their opposing orbits send bodies careering, glistening with sweat, bouncing into walls, each other and the floor in an alarming demonstration of silent physical exertion. In a jubilant finale, swelling music accompanies their tableau featuring blue skies with fluffy clouds, posing with speakers while fans blow their hair back from their sweat-streaked faces.

Given Croft’s discourse on the power of narrative creation from an individual’s own perspective and experience, any given reading of Death Throes is valid and encouraged by the surreal and open performance. The wide-ranging panel discussions sow seeds for a multiplicity of interpretations beyond simply observing the gleeful absurdity and dynamism of physical theatre and performance art. Reflections on artificial economic concepts, atomic theory, movement of planetary bodies, recurring patriarchal influences, social pressures – any of these and more may be found depicted in the circular, explosive and transcendent progress within stage set, movement, lighting, sequins, panel discussion and the work as a whole. Or maybe we witness an expenditure of time and energy that goes in no particular direction, without reason or moral outcome – no heroic journey but a series of moments.

Tight vocal work meshes with the dynamic lighting and soundscapes, featuring Croft’s interest in vocal pitch, pace and timbre. Death Throes brings strongly considered chaos to the stage, costumes, and minimalist set, with the performers’ palpable efforts bringing tension and exhausting performers and audience members alike. Whether the closing stance shows strength, recuperation or escape from the constrictions of expectation is up to the imagination of the beholder. Lui, Croft and Gillies each claim their space on the canvas of our own experience and expectation.

A playful, challenging work, with a side serve of opportunistic in-show merchandising, Death Throes celebrates the joy of collaboration between like-minded creative forces, bringing audiences along for their exuberant ride.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Death Throes
Co-created and performed by Julia Croft, Harriet Gillies and Joe Lui
30 April-18 May 2019
Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre, Northbridge WA
Tickets $20-$30

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.