We all are aware of the curse of age in the performance industry, and how time seems to strip the performer of their rapport in an ironic twist of “too much experience”. But it is another thing to live it. And quite another again to perform it.
Upon walking into what remains of the La Mama Theatre after its tragic burning down, an alcove of lights leads into the main office of the building as a back entrance into the theatre. With the lofty space void of a ceiling and exposing the bones of the building’s infrastructure, we enter a very intimate and almost raw scene; and this show capitalises on that quality with cheeky grins and firm hands as it celebrates its being uninhibitedly. Bringing to the stage an entertaining yet assertive piece of circus from an inside perspective, leading ladies Debra Batton and Sue Broadway glamorously and disgracefully give insight into the lives lived in the world of performance, and that age, whilst an immortaliser of accomplishment, sucks the life outta you. Hosted by the Victorian Seniors Festival and conjured by the intricate craftsmanship of a team of intelligent women – Batton, Broadway, Blake, Bartholomew and Barrie – One and the Other returns to La Mama in all of its feminist eminence for one more well-deserved curtain call.
With the set a wall donned with all the circus paraphernalia and trickster’s trinkets that we know and love, there was already the expectation for the audience to be taken through the typical showcase of juggling and spinning and masterful comedic timing. However, with the themes of the show giving a distinct subversive narrative, there is an added layer of curiosity due to there being nothing on the stage to suggest anything other than pure circus, a very clever device established by designer Emily Barrie. With only a doorway in the centre, we come to anticipate glorious surprises – and glorious surprises are delivered. While indeed being a showcase of skills showing off our talented multidisciplinarians, Debra Batton and Sue Broadway embrace their age and reclaim their renown as they display their abundance of trophies and festival shirts and vulnerable stories of defying forces working against them to get to where they are now. Directed by the brilliant Clare Bartholomew with erudite particularity and an obvious visionary’s keen observation, Batten’s and Broadway’s performance memoir One and the Other is a tastefully light-hearted yet incredibly moving hour of laughter and silence – both ringing just as loud as the other – showing that age is no obstacle in loving what you do and who you are.
We cannot discuss this show without shedding light on the content. In what is almost a protest for their rapport to be maintained and yet also to be considered still as human beings despite their rapport, Batten and Broadway speak up on the many fights they had fought throughout their many years prior to and within the industry. Amalgamating conventions of theatre, vaudeville, dance, gymnastics, circus and therapy, One and the Other becomes an exploration of the dexterity and determination of our circus luminaries in order to find their footing and keep standing tall despite adversity; in an ironic progression, they slowly become more and more outrageous with “age” until they finally end the piece senile and buck-naked. With sneaky intelligence in the formatting of the content, we had one of or both performers setting up a tableau with props – Batten often to perform one of her honed skills with reassuring confidence and Broadway often becoming a caricature of herself in a charmingly entertaining fashion – with these vignettes intermittently being followed immediately by a harsh tale of youthful defeat and having the glory stripped away, creating an intense personable bond between the audience and performers without ever making either party uncomfortable in that relationship. For a performance art built on a scope of fantastical tricks and spectacular skills, these two empowered women manage to be the most real people in the room in the ultimate switcheroo. Complementing these intentions and strengthening the relationship was that of the lighting design, nuancing the many moments with the perfect frame to capture both the light and shade of each ‘performance’.
And let’s not forget our third performer. Sitting on a platform high and centre against the backdrop, musical director and musician Teresa Blake also shows off her multidisciplinary skills as she surrounds herself with a mass of various instruments, both familiar and abstract. Throughout the movements of the piece, Blake precisely follows or conducts with the utmost focus, composing a contextually appropriate underscore for each gesture and look and emotion as if the music were the heartbeat and body of the performers themselves. With her exact exaggerations of the movements onstage, Blake often heightened the humour with a delightful layer, using the iconic cowbell in a moment of gawky appeal. Blake proves to any movie scorers in the audience that a full orchestral piece sometimes just cannot compete against the minimalist approach from a refined musician.
Circus tents come and go and will always provide the awe-inspiring entertainment one could seek; however, if you are looking for an unconventional twist on the usual conventions, One and the Other goes above and beyond in bringing intimate insight to the world of our performers, contrasting the pains with the pleasures, the Battens with the Broadways, the ones with the others in a timeless look at what we allow time to make of our heroes.
Images: Ponch Hawkes