REVIEW: night sweat by Michelle McCowage - Melbourne Fringe

Theatre is a dream space.

We settle into chairs, sometimes cushioned, sometimes uncomfortable, and are lulled into another world. We are grounded and open to new experiences. We have no control over what comes next, but as with lucid dreaming, we can choose to go with the show or not.

The best theatre can be chaotic and drag us through or it can be gentle, hold our hands and whisper into our ears and our subconscious. It can tell us a story or give us an experience and leave us with a generous hint of someone else’s life.

Michelle McCowage’s night sweat is a theatrical translation of their experiences as a sleepwalker. They lie face down on the ground as the audience enters the space and only gains the energy to wake as we focus on them, encouraged by collaborator and live music composer, Kyle Muir.

We meet an angel who watches Michelle and speaks with an ethereal voice that echoes through the space. We meet a masc fuckboi. We meet Hugo Weaving playing Ernest Shackleton at the MTC.

And we are inundated with scents and sounds and noises from the restaurant next door, because of course, it’s Melbourne Fringe and every space is a performance space. But even the reality of that bleeds into the show as a kind of unreality; dream logic that we can wave away.

McCowage’s text is precise where it needs to be, but it’s flexible, contorting with the audience response and the outside noise. There’s some clever improvisation in there, complementing their open, honest performance of a very personal experience of sleeping, waking, dream and nightmare.

Their physicality is captivating, too. The movements of a dancer. The twists and grimace of a clown. We can see the actor pushing themselves and experimenting and know that it’s intrinsically tied to their experience of uncontrol when they should be at rest.

So many one-person shows try a myriad of tones and styles just to show off, as a kind of audition to whoever shows up. In night sweat, we are in better hands – beautifully written, movingly choreographed and gently done.

The live score and soundscape add a real depth to the experience, too. Kyle acts as an accomplice and a sounding board and a supporting actor, but he also plays guitar and rings bells and records and replays as he goes. If McCowage is flexible in their performance, the sound design is, too. It’s magical.

Theatre is a dreamspace that can be joyful and awful and sometimes slept through.

night sweat gently guides us into a likeness of McCowage’s life as a sleepwalker, but it also digs into their life as a performer, a person with visions and a non-binary witch. It’s a genuinely exciting piece of theatre that I had to wake up from, but it left me with a warm glow. 

night sweat is on at Melbourne Fringe until Oct 8.

Photographs by Ainsley Halbmeijer