Sunday, 16 September 2018

Melbourne Fringe: There by Elbow Room

Emily Tomlins & Angus Grant in There
as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival

In the beginning, there is darkness. A torch spotlights a pair of fingers walking across a black dais, exploring their domain. Another torch, another pair of fingers appears on the dais. It’s theatre and storytelling in miniature. It’s physical theatre reduced to the barest of elements. But this is only the beginning.

Elbow Room first performed There as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2008. Ten years later, they are reviving the play, performing it in the same venue with the same cast – two of Elbow Room’s co-founders, Emily Tomlins and Angus Grant.

I didn’t see the original production of There but I have seen a lot of Elbow Room’s work since then, so it’s great to see one of their earliest shows, one that proves how strong their vision has always been. The show is almost deceptively simple in its way, as an exploration of the fear and elation of making and performing theatre.

It's not long before the two performers behind the fingers and the torchlight have discovered the rest of their bodies and their voices and each other. There’s a real frisson of energy and theatrical tension as the focus of the piece expands, gathering the full range of theatrical expression afforded by an indie theatre budget in the Loft at the Lithuanian Club.

Once dialogue is discovered the physical theatre piece evolves into audience interaction and something that evokes improvisation but is very cleverly scripted by another Elbow Room co-founder, Marcel Dorney. Now the performers are at odds; the typical generosity of an improvisors “Yes, and?” is weaponised. Is there a table there or not? Where’s the window? Has your brother even left?

There is a deconstruction of theatremaking that is genuinely funny and a celebration of what intimate, small scale theatre can be.


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