Latecomers and (de)construct may have been developed separately, but their connections are clear. Both pieces are concerned with ideas of the self and the ways in which we are perceived and constructed by those around us. Whilst the two pieces explore these ideas to different ends, Open Body has created a compelling partnership that leads audiences to question the true impact of their behaviour towards others.
Cera Maree Brown’s (de)construct is a gentle and thoughtful piece, exploring the nature of identity and the performance of everyday life. The staging was simple but dynamic, with each of the four performers stationed at a microphone, a thin strip of bright blue lights linking them through empty space. The performance was strongest when it combined the actors’ naturalistic discussions of their identity and insecurities with movement through the space of the stage. Holly Donoghue deserves particular mention here for her captivating physicality, focus and commitment to making even the smallest gesture engrossing to watch. Jehrome Reyes was also a standout, managing to give the audience a real sense of character in small, disjointed moments of dialogue.
The hold over the audience was somewhat lost in the final act of the piece, where dialogue was discarded as all four actors moved with and around each other in a combination of planned and improvised movements. It was initially a pleasure to watch how the actors interacted with the incredible soundscape, performed live by James Christensen and Joshua Trappett, but as the scene continued without a notable climax, it began to wear thin. It would have been much more powerful if the show had ended in the dynamic moment after Reyes tore down the plastic curtain separating the musicians from the audience, leaving us with the idea that our self-imposed social barriers can be torn down to reveal a ‘true’ identity behind them.
Yu Qian’s Latecomers is a mostly light-hearted look at the experience of Chinese immigrants in Australia. While creative and largely original, the chaos that pervaded Latecomers held the production back. Paradoxically, the performance would have felt more genuine had it been more rehearsed and firmly organised. But there were some very powerful moments.
By subverting the audiences’ expectations, the show made the normally passive viewer complicit in the mistreatment of the ‘latecomers’. Before the audience even entered the space they were divided into two groups, one of which entered the theatre first, got the first choice of seats, and was given a sticker with terms such as ‘productive’, ‘talkative’ or ‘smelly’. The second group only made it to the theatre after a ‘security check’ and were labelled by the first group, then sent to stand at the back of the space. The show ‘began’ only to be interrupted by the late arrival of two hopeful actors expecting an audition, only to find the show already on. The confusion was initially used to great comic effect, but became more serious, with a monologue connecting this misunderstanding to the experience of immigrants in Australia. While this speech provided a valuable perspective, the show was overall much more effective when it used humour rather than high emotion. In one vignette on airport security, Jehrome Reyes delighted audiences as a border official, making the audience laugh while Yu Qian squirmed under his interrogation. The contrast between the audience’s amusement and Qian’s distress didn’t lessen the impact; it heightened the sense of complicity and privilege that pervaded the entire performance.
Open Body Theatre’s Latecomers/(de)construct is theatre that encourages you to think, about yourself and about others. Both works may need some polishing, but they give a voice to what is normally left unsaid.
Open Body Theatre’s Latecomers / (de)construct ran from the 17th – 19th August at Aeso Studio, Fitzroy.