Saturday, 24 September 2016

Melbourne Fringe: The Maze

Melbourne Fringe: The Maze
I was following a woman. I had just seen Essential Theatre’s all-female production of Julius Caesar and I was walking along Queensberry Street, back towards Arts House and there was a woman up ahead of me. I wasn’t following her. We were just walking in the same direction, but she didn’t know that. Maybe I was following her?

I am always conscious of that. That someone might think I’m following them, especially after dark. Sometimes I fall back or if I’m already too close, I hurry past. This night, I crossed the road. That’s where I wanted to be, anyway. And we kept walking in the same general direction, but now it was clear I was no longer following her. If she even noticed at all.

Was she wearing headphones? I think she was wearing headphones. Headphones are a concern because they can get you killed or theycan get you harassed. No wait, that’s not that fault of the headphones. Or the woman.

I had time to drop into the Festival Club for a drink before I saw The Honeytrap’s The Maze. By the time I met creator Kasey Gambling outside Joe Taylor’s on Errol St, I’d had three drinks over a few hours. Kasey asked if I’d been drinking. I instinctively said, “A couple.” I always say a couple.

Kasey was concerned for my safety. The Honeytrap had me sign something to absolve them of responsibility, but The Maze is about street harassment. Random lewd behaviour and comments. Aggressions, both micro and macro.

Could I run in the shoes I was wearing? Could I use my umbrella as a weapon? It was a cold night, but someone could use my scarf against me.

Kasey pointed to a woman at a tram stop. I had to follow her but keep my distance. Kasey gave me an ipod nano to listen to; it scored my trip through North Melbourne with the thoughts of the woman I followed, with the conversations she had with the men who passed her, with misguided talkback radio discussions about women’s safety.

I love immersive theatre. Everything from Punchdrunks’ Sleep No More to Fleur Kilpatrick’s The City They Burned. Give me non-conventional theatre spaces and surprising outdoor works, too.

I followed the woman, trying to keep my distance, but also to keep up. Looking around, both consciously knowing how suspicious I must look, and also getting dropped into the head of a stalker. “If I stay far enough back, maybe she won’t notice I’m following her...”

The first laneway she walked down was one of the same I walked down a week earlier for Infinitum. This space that in the dusk had seemed so magical, was now shadowed and threatening. Someone is following her. Is she worried about me? Or is there someone following me following her?

I think there are five actors involved in The Maze, but I’m not sure. The men recurred but there was a woman or two on the trip through chilly, late night North Melbourne that crossed our paths once or twice. And then, of course, there were just people on the street. Walking alone or two together. A car slows down and then drives off.

You never know what is part of this kind of site-specific immersive work. An automatic light that had seemed magical in Infinitum felt like a scare moment; was someone watching her from inside that building?

The technical aspects of the work are quite remarkable; the timing of the dialogue is spot on. The judicious use of silences on the walk is quite unnerving, too.

Late in the piece, as the tension rises and I’m at a remove from the performers, Kasey approaches again and takes my headphones away. The next part of the experience happens from the back seat of a car and The Maze gets even more difficult to navigate. At least, at this point, I feel less like a stalker and more a passenger, content to absorb what this woman tells me about her experiences.

The end of The Maze is abrupt and unnerving. You’re left alone with your thoughts. You are an audience of one and have no one to talk about your experience with. The performers are no longer around to applaud or to thank. And you’ve stepped into an experience which would terrify most people if it was really happening and, to all intents and purposes, it really was.

There was a woman being stalked through the streets of North Melbourne. And I was following her. And instead of falling back or crossing the road, I kept close and hoped no one got the wrong impression.

After an eighty-minute all-female Julius Caesar, watching a creative team rework Shakespeare’s classic for women, I was immersed in the story of how many women feel unsafe in public spaces. I didn’t plan it, but it was quite a brutal theatrical one-two punch.

There will be reviews of Julius Caesar and The Maze up at AussieTheatre soon.


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