La Boite Theatre Company’s 2016 season opened with a bang last week. In fact, there were more than a few bangs to be heard on the opening night of When One Door Closes: the slam of contorted bodies hitting the ground (bang!), the clap of gasping viewers’ hands hitting their mouths (bang!) and the crash of late 19th century realism colliding with absurd spectacle (bang!). It’s a meeting of circus, cabaret and canon that surprises at every (literal) twist and turn. Tickets available now for the season at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre.
Turning classic theatre on its head
Brisbane-based contemporary circus company Circa collaborated with the La Boite team on this innovative production, which takes three of the great dramatic heroines – Nora (A Doll’s House), Hedda Gabler and Miss Julie – and plays around with interpretations of their stories.
As examples of realist or naturalist theatre, these plays shocked early audiences by criticising the prescribed gender roles and biased laws around work and marriage prevalent in the late 1800s. All three women find themselves in some version of oppressive, loveless relationships with restrictions placed on their creativity, sexuality and intellectual endeavors. In the end, Nora commits the ultimate crime (for a woman) and walks out on her family, whilst Hedda and Julie meet untimely ends. The plays have provided generations of theatre lovers, critics and feminist scholars with endless scope for analysis and reinterpretation of their messages.
Love is: jumping through hoops and tying yourself in knots
And so to When One Door Closes, where realism is thrown out the window and replaced with high drama, modern dance, dark cabaret and circus. With little dialogue, the performers use symbolism, metaphor and music to dissect gender roles and the tension in our need for both partnerships and independence. Scenes from the plays are plucked out, blended with new ingredients and slotted back in; other moments represent broader examinations of just how far we’ve come (or not) in our search for gender equality, sexual freedom and the perfect relationship.
After shocking opening scenes, reflecting the plays’ closing moments, we see our three heroines literally chew up and spit out their stories. As paper fragments blow in the breeze, a world of ‘what ifs’ opens up and a procession of distinct acts follows.
Performers use their incredible acrobatic skills to move between camp, colourful displays of self-expression to macabre moments of misery and restriction … and this is love … and this is life. Ever felt someone was making you jump through hoops to win their affection? Perhaps someone has left you hanging? You’ve felt as though your hands were tied? Needed a leg up to get where you needed to be? Now, picture each of these typical human experiences of love literally – and add sequins!
Symbolism and sympathy
Your high school or uni arts and English students will have a field day with the semiotics in this production, but it works on a range of levels, enjoyable to a broad audience (15yrs+). Any adult who has loved and lost will see glimpses of themselves amidst the diverse funny and infuriating depictions here.
Whether or not you wish to get deep and meaningful about gender roles or maudlin about your own relationships, you can’t fail to fall under the spell of the outstanding physical theatre on display. From contortion to balancing, hoops, ropes, tumbling, sheer strength and endurance, circus athletes push us to cringe and gasp in a way not always seen in the ‘serious’ theatre. Good theatre is supposed to make you feel, even if that means feeling a little sick as you wait for the performer who is flying through the air to make a secure landing!
The music and soundscape also rate a mention. The eclectic mix of jarring scratchy dialogue recordings and popular love songs contributes much to the element of surprise as one scene melts into another.
You’ll walk away reflecting on the way theatre holds a mirror to society (it’s a cliché, I know, but so true) and rejoicing in the fact that, in this day and age of economic rationalism, creative adventures still have a place to live.
You’ll also wonder what you did with all those wasted hours you could have spent doing the splits.
When One Door Closes plays until 23rd April at Brisbane’s Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove. Visit the La Boite Theatre Company website for details.
I was gifted tickets to see this production, but all opinions are my own.