By Samuel J. Cox
In its world premier, this piece was better than spending a night of pleasure with Daenerys Targaryen. Presented by the brilliant new theatre collective The Last Great Hunt and PICA, where they have operated as artists-in-residence for the last few months, it was created and performed by the veritable dream team of Adriane Daff, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs and Tim Watts (donned in blue HAZMAT suits looking ready to cook up a batch of Heisenberg’s finest).
As with ‘Elephents’ (the collective’s first show, and the standout at the Blue Room this year), the play is set in a grim dystopian future, where the environment has been severely degraded and animal life is endangered. It details the efforts of scientist Mary Miller’s attempt to bring birds backs from extinction, using two whooping cranes (the cheeky Henry and docile Jenny). Operating out of an island facility, accessesed by air balloon (a delightfully odd and quirky detail for a futuristic play), she is given one year to make the birds fly. Playing an awkward introvert with her head in the clouds, the gorgeous Daff leaves everything on the stage, giving a stunning performance that will have you deeply invested in the fate of these gangly creatures. Brought to life as puppets seemingly constructed out of scrunched up paper (sounds underwhelming), the birds are like breast implants; you know they’re fake but you can’t stop watching them.
One short hour in duration, the play covers Miller’s 365 days in intense leaps and bounds. Her fear and self-doubts plague her, and are manifested as a whole other person on stage, but there’s little character development (although there are plans to further develop the work says Daff). Innovatively using a variety of audiovisual technology, a live video stream, animation, puppetry, dolls and model buildings, it is visual feast, and undoubtedly an expensive, but high quality production. Carefully calculated, it never appeared to falter, and was a delight in that one could closely examine an effect and be totally unsure of how they achieved it. An immersive experience, one’s eyes are drawn to projections and lights on every surface of the space. Performed in the black box theatre at PICA it’s greater size, over venues like The Blue Room, gave the play scope to operate on a more dramatic scale.
The performance examines the parallels between art and science, where one can be given an amazing opportunity, in the form of a monetary grant, to produce work, but then be put under the immense pressure of a time limit that inhibits and interferes with the organic creative process. Ultimately, Mary is answerable to her corporate investors, and the central concern is the profitability of her endeavour.
Award-winning composer Ash Gibson Greig’s masterful job will have you hankering for a copy of the soundtrack. From rocking tunes to uplifting, soaring melodies, he was perfectly N’sync with the tone of the performance.
Staged mainly in the dark, it is almost a speechless play, yet it is funny, magical and spectacular. The Last Great Hunt are well on their way towards being mentioned in the same conversation as the greats, to which I say, alright, alright, alright.
‘Falling Through Clouds’ runs until October 11.
Images by Jarrad Seng Photography.