SYDNEY FESTIVAL - NEVER DID ME ANY HARM
NEVER DID ME ANY HARM, Force Majeure and Sydney Theatre Company; Wharf 1, 11 January-12 February 2012. Photos: Jamie Williams.
A SHOW that is devised and staged by Kate Champion's Force Majeure physical theatre company is pretty much guaranteed to demand that you expect the unexpected and check your own preconceptions at the door. With long-time collaborators, set and lighting designer Geoff Cobham and co-creator Roz Hervey, Champion has given us - most recently - the memorable Not In A Million Years and The Age I'm In and the quality and variety of their work goes back to Same, Sam But Different and altogether they place the company in a unique and hugely admired place in Australian performance.
The least likely and oblique sources tend to launch Champion's imaginative leaps and Never Did Me Any Harm was sparked by Christos Tsolkas's The Slap. It's merely the spark, however, and the creative heat caused by it has fashioned something else entirely. Over the past couple of years, the Force Majeure crew has conducted some 60 hours of interviews with people who have shared their thoughts and beliefs on kids, parenthood, corporal punishment, discipline (notably its absence), breastfeeding, disability and so on. Fragments of these recordings begin the evening, anchoring it in the place of "real" and "ordinary" from which the theatre and spectacle then take off.
Typically, Champion has chosen a company of actors and dancers whose distinct talents and abilities are melded, apparently effortlessly, into a coherent whole. It's deceptive, of course. The ease that flows in the exchanges between, for instance, actor Marta Dusseldorp and dancer Sarah Jayne Howard, is the outcome of willingness on the part of both to leave their own assumptions and comfort zones behind; inventive minds and bloody hard work.
Similarly the fusion of audio, breathtaking lighting plots (see the main photo for an inkling of what happens) and the performers is made to appear simple and easy when it is not. Text and gesture, light and sound combine to make poetry of the human body and rhythms of everyday speech. The rest of the cast - Kristina Chan, Vincent Crowley, Alan Flower, Kirstie McCracken, Heather Mitchell and Josh Mu - assume various roles: father and son, lonely kids, bullying kids, a snippy middle class matron, lovers, mothers, friends, enemies. All have a discrete language of movement and voice; for the dance inclined there are sly pas de deux, trios and fractured ensembles. But Never Did Me Any Harm is impossible to pigeonhole.
Geoff Cobham's hyper-realistic set of a suburban backyard with a neatly mown lawn, herbaceous border, a tree and a shed is both reassuring and unsettling as it's washed in the already mentioned light plays and Max Lyandvert's rich soundscape. Dogs bark, children laugh and play in a nearby swimming pool and playground, birds sing, cicadas trill. It's all so normal … average … and yet, as we all know, some of the most ferociously uncompromising cultural and ideological battles are fought out in the privacy of normal, average homes and backyards.
Kate Champion's Force Majeure is never less than madly interesting; most often they have profound, amusing and moving things to show and tell. In this instance, anticipation is rewarded in spades. Warning: don't go expecting run of the mill contemporary dance, or performance art or theatre. Do go to be thrilled, entertained and emotionally engaged and you won't be disappointed.