In her directorial debut for Union House Theatre, Petra Kalive has guided Echo’s strong cast to create a devised work that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. The performance opens with a brief retelling of the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus before moving on to a series of self-contained scenes examining narcissism in contemporary culture. From the first scene the actors establish that high energy and mutual commitment to the concept runs through the entire play.
The scenes devised by the performers vary in tone. The play covers a huge range of ideas within the broad theme of narcissism, and some of these work better than others. There is a small amount of material that steps into sensitive territory and may not sit well with some people, but overall the scenes are clever, funny and relatable. From plastic surgery to mass media, the skits take aim at self-centeredness and arrogance.
This is definitely a demanding performance, with the actors being required to move from solemnity and drama to silliness and satire at the drop of a hat. As they take turns portraying the characters in the myth, the cast delivers every movement and word with great intensity. They also demonstrate impressive physical awareness in the dance and movement integrated throughout the show – frequently during complicated monologues. The choreography is somewhat limited, but this is understandable given that Echo is not a dance piece.
The blocking is excellent (read: very satisfying for fans of symmetry) and the transitions are well thought out. However the multiple lip-synching segments that take place during the rearranging of the set start to become repetitive. These could have benefited from some more choreography, visual material or physical comedy.
Echo has a semi-futuristic aesthetic, with the woodland inspired costumes and set adding to the poetic quality of the performance. The felt flower petals adorning the actors did remind me a little bit of Play School, which seemed a bit incongruous in some of the heavier moments. The tiered platforms allow for some creative staging and visually striking tableaux. Jai Leeworthy and Liam Bellman-Sharpe have done an excellent job with the music, and there are some interesting lighting effects.
It is ironic that the ensemble is so dedicated to presenting such a wonderfully collaborative, coherent and consistent style of performance given that the subject matter is about the tendency to be self-absorbed and unsupportive of others. Echo is kooky and fun, with a big handful of social commentary thrown in. It certainly leaves its audience with something to ponder.
UHT’s Echo is playing in the Union Theatre, Union House, the University of Melbourne from May 22-30. Tickets are available here.
Photography: Sarah Walker