To get straight to it – Moral Panic is powerful, brilliant, must-see theatre.
The production from Double Water Signs, directed by Bridget Balodis, and written by Rachel Perks, is fierce, surprising, funny, and deeply affecting. The show has clearly been wrought with clear vision, great empathy, intelligence, and inevitable anger, all of which emanate to the viewer.
Moral Panic meets its audience first on their terms, terms the audience will be familiar with: drag, sarcastic humour, gaffes, Charmed references, and light identity politics. It then seamlessly pivots to a theatrical language that is the creator’s and performers’ own, and is uniquely feminine / feminist and queer. This is a language that sheds easy and arguably masculine theatre norms and semiotic. The show in these moments is engaging us bodily. This is what’s possible with the magic of theatre and having performers stand meters in front of you.
It begins with a call to arms against witches. And why not? Witches, again, stand amongst us and our zeitgeist, in clear clean characterisation.
There’s the pop-y pseudo-Satanic Sabrina of Netflix’s newest adaptation.
There’s apparently old, white, cis-het, conservative witches these days, if we were to put any stock in America’s elected president’s over 120 tweets referencing “witch-hunts”.
And as always, there’s the familiar nose, pointed hat, and broom replicated each Halloween, captured so well in The Wizard of Oz, and on a “ditch the witch” sign that Tony Abbott thought he should stand in front of in 2011.
Moral Panic plays with these simple characterisations, but ultimately opts for an exploration of female and queer identity, via the formation of a witchcraft coven, that isn’t as readily dissected or explained away.
Chanella Macri, playing Sue-Anne and briefly Sue-Anne’s uncle in drag, introduces us to the production. She plays and toys with wonderful contradictions of teenage angst, earnestness, insecurity and gravity. Her performance is a joy of timing and measure.
Eva Seymour, playing Evie, soon takes the reins, as she prepares a hex with a jar of her menstrual blood, a digital Ouija board, and her best friend Andy. Seymour has a ton of fun evoking and probing the more teenage and pop aspects of witchcraft, a great physical performance.
Kai Bradley, playing the angst-fuelled Andy, charts the performances’ narrative from the known teen comedy into the unknown witchy hinterland. Their performance showcases a wonderful emotional availability that keeps the audience close at hand.
But the play wouldn’t be complete without the energy, ferocity, empathy and hunger that Jennifer Vuletic brings to Callista, Evie’s aunt, a veritable Wiccan. Vuletic prowls, instigates, transfigures and dominates the stage. She is in her element here, and delivers the play’s most affecting moment, a storming call to arms, voice, body, and all.
The performers are framed and elevated by the show’s production elements. Romanie Harper is able to contrast the pitch perfect comedy of her costuming with a simple but incredibly effective otherworldly design. Amelia Lever-Davidson provides an interplay of colour, light and dark which avoids the obvious and sets the atmosphere well and Meri Leeworthy’s sound design is both haunting and well-measured.
In her seminal study of the sociology of witchcraft, Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler writes that “the very power of the word [witch] lies in its imprecision. It is not merely a word, but an archetype, a cluster of powerful images… The price we pay for clarity of definition must not be a reduction in the force of this cluster of images.”
Double Water Signs, Balodis, Perks, cast and crew have all answered this challenge, and are now showing their cluster of powerful images. Any lack of easy definition or narrative is more than answered in the power of their work. We are the richer for it.
Images: Sarah Walker