A new play by Nathaniel Moncrieff

The Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA.

Presented as part of the Winter Arts Festival 2016

Black Swan Theatre Company

review full stageA Perfect Specimen brings to life the dark and tragic story of Mexican “ape woman” Julia Pastrana.

Born with the condition hypertrichosis , where the sufferer’s face and body is covered in straight black hair, the play examines the relationship between Pastrana and Theodore Lent: a ‘freak show’ tour manager who eventually becomes her husband. After being taught to dance and play music, they embark on a Russian tour with Prastana as the main ‘attraction’.

Perth born playwright Nathaniel Moncrieff, a product of the Black Swan Lab, takes the audience on an unsettling journey into motives, morals, exploitation, greed and ultimately love.

review teaThis production is beautifully stylised. What greets you on entering the Studio Underground are the ‘once lush’ velveteen drapes and beaded curtains, establishing the faded glory of the lavish 1860’s Victorian era. Frances Danckert’s detailing is wonderful with simple but stylish set pieces.

Costuming by Lynn Ferguson is a standout. Obviously well researched, the costumes are beautifully constructed and you are instantly transformed to 1860’s Russia.

Review acroWith clever direction from Stuart Halusz, the audience is taken on a 90 minute journey into the mysterious freakish world of travelling sideshows. Stuart’s staging is ideally executed. The dual revolve is a perfect solution for the seamless scene changes, maximising the use of space in the intimate venue. The Studio is the perfect theatre space for this production. Any larger and the audience would lose the dark, cold, unsettling feeling this story communicates.

The five experienced actors, Adriane Daff (Julia Pastrana), Luke Hewitt (Theodore Lent), Rebecca Davis (American acrobat Marian Trumbull and Russian Midwife), Greg McNeill (Lent’s business partner Cornell Wurlitzer) and Igor Sas (Dr. Gregory Alyokhin) all give fine performances. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Lent and Wurlitzer as they dispute over the morality of Lent’s continued exploitation of his wife.

review menA Perfect Specimen takes the audience on a dramatic journey and even though the production itself is rich and absorbing, I left wanting to know more about Pastrana and her struggles to be accepted in an unaccepting world and more about the psyche of Lent and his decisions, that ultimately lead him into madness. With more refinement of the writing this will become a fully rounded piece of very engaging theatre.

The World Premier packs a lot into it’s 90 minutes and is an attractively crafted piece of WA theatre of an intriguing, heartbreaking story.
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Photo credits: Daniel James Grant

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