Breakaway Party of Heaven’s Temple – REVIEW by Kadey McIntosh

 ***.5 stars

Breakaway Party of Heaven’s Temple is the product of a truly Melbournian artistic collaboration in it’s content, format, delivery and more.

Examining meditation, performance and the symbolic, it’s the first association between Director Travis Handcock and playwright/producer/performer Nicholas Lah.

It’s a newly devised project, originally conceptualised by Lah then workshopped and reworked into what is currently on show by Handcock and an ensemble cast.

A non-linear story about life, death and the choices we make about living it, Breakaway Party of Heaven’s Temple explores the idea of guided meditation as a practice at independent arts institution, the Lithuanian Club of North Melbourne.

The result is an intriguing piece of experimental theatre that ultimately invites its audience to consider what it means for themselves.

Immediately striking about this production though, is the level of care taken to establish a sense of place and the role it has played in generating the story.

Upon entering the Lithuanian Clubs’ Ballroom, you’re faced with a giant wooden door, carvings all over.

Serving as a portal to transport audiences from the real world into the reverent world of the ‘Temple’, it’s the only real ‘set piece’ and as a universally recognisable device is an effective design choice.

Actors in theatre blacks quietly guide guests towards cushions on the floor, encircling the Guide (played by playwright Nicholas Lah) as he sits quietly cross-legged at the centre of the room with sitar poised and ready to lead the meditation.

What is secondly striking about this production, is the decision to have the actors learn five different parts, then randomly select their roles at the start of each show.

With a mantra of ‘let’s not spoon feed the audience’, Handcock’s direction permits an open – ended interpretation of the series of vignettes presented throughout.

Handcock’s guidance of both playwright and performers to take responsibility for their storytelling this way is evident in the overall sense of effortlessness in the performance, despite it’s themes being anything but easy to tackle.

Moreover, it is a testament to the deft ensemble work of the actors: Dawn Bamforth, Aprita Saluja, Maddie Stewart, Tabitha Veness and Alistair Ward. All displayed solid technique in immersive performance and it would be great to see more from their characters if the play were to be workshopped for future productions.

The use of sound, lighting and music played an entirely other character altogether and without Jasmine Tolentino’s expert design and seamless timing on cues, there’d be a storytelling deficit as major as if they’d lost one of the actors themselves.

In addition, the actors’ Foley sound effects sprinkled through the guided meditation were completely unexpected and sparked a few chuckles too.

The choice to use live sound effects provided some animation for any audience members (me!) who simply couldn’t keep their eyes shut for a full 30 minutes.

The ethereal sound of the sitar (played by Nicholas Lah) added to this, giving the first half of the play which was perhaps a bit too long, some added energy.

With only 60 minutes to tell the story, it felt like the second half of the play was a little under developed, but such is the true nature of newly devised work.

Finally, we are left with nothing but our own thoughts as the meditation comes full circle and we as an audience sat in silent reflection for a few moments, before feeling like it was time to get up and go.

Breakaway Party of Heaven’s Temple is a unique piece of performance art that is certainly worth experiencing, whether you are keen on guided mediation or love to support our local independent artists, this work is well worth the time.

Remaining performances are 8pm Thurs – Sat, with a matinee at 4pm this Saturday as well as the final show that evening. Tickets are $25 per person and are available along with full details here: