Trauma. The distress of impact. Something destructive. It is always the event of trauma that is where the focus lies. But what of the gripping effects?
In a chaotic kaleidoscope of contrasting vignettes, Song for a Weary Throat desperately explores the limbo of torment and confusion that neurotically consumes post-trauma. With fifteen bodies arising from the wreckage of an abandoned dance hall after a disaster, Melbourne’s award-winning theatre company Rawcus presents a dynamic showcase of physical theatre and Artaudian delights in a emotional typhoon of movements and sound. Combining theatre and music in a mesmerising and unique spectacle, Song for a Weary Throat sweeps the auditorium with the shadows of grief that we all know too well; the loss and grief of trauma seeps through: the heartbreaks and the failures and the regrets and the sorrows, all powerfully reanimated through those lost to the wilderness of finality.
With the thrust stage and raked seating that is the Fairfax Studio, the vibe of the space already has a more intimate atmosphere than not, cornering the audience’s attention upon the stage. Running along the farthest sides and corner of the stage was a second tier that above a thin alcove; ripe with glorious vines, some of which were overhanging, the alcove was full of unsuspecting folding chairs and some other indiscernible paraphernalia like rubble. Set and Costume Designer Emily Barrie decorates the thrust minimally, leaving it predominantly bare with only three large totems situated onstage: a ramp to the left, a flank of scrappy seating pews concealing a heap to the right, and another ramp flipped so that it stood towering in the centre. With only these three objects for a majority of the show, the performers incredibly involve and manoeuvre each piece with force and intention, creating small but effective emotions through the ever-changing and angular landscape. With a litter of objects that moved in and out of the space with such rapidity and so haphazardly, we ask ourselves in disturbance: “What happened here?”
Trauma and pain are known to all, and what a better way to interpret these vignettes and images than with an incredibly diverse troupe. With performers both disabled and non-, Song for a Weary Throat achieves a new level of staying true to the human condition, painting the portraits of all those who live pain and all those who fight it with dignified brushstrokes. Director Kate Sulan and Associate Director Ingrid Voorendt embrace the enormous task of bringing together the one-hour segment of emotional electricity and present the piece with refined nuance, allowing each performer to take their spotlight and each emotion to be accurately expressed. The cast each brings with them a story, a feeling, a power, and complements each other with distinct qualities that, despite differentiating them from the next, develops a sense of community on the stage in the equality of their inequalities. There is no doubt that each singular performer was a commanding presence on that stage, and together were an unreckoned energy. This idea was further reinstated in the costume design: each performer seems to wear what they feel comfortable in, again reiterating the scope of people that are affected by loss and grief – in essence, everyone.
With Musical Direction by Jethro Woodward and Invenio Ensemble Artistic Direction by Gian Slater, the ultimate highlight of the show was that of our soundscape. Provided by the critically-acclaimed contemporary vocalists Invenio Singers, this divine trio manages to refine the hand-crafted physical world around them, shaving off the knots and bumps with an ethereal layering of music. Turning the actors around them into ghosts and shadows, their haunting harmonies and resonance shape the sculptures of bodies with an almost Scandinavian flavour as they cry out and pierce the soul with beautiful tribal wailing. These performers understand how to communicate pain through vocal placement alone, soaring through the octaves and rhythmically breathing against one another to create a whirlwind of sighs and huffs that transforms into spiritual chant through the breath alone. With such a unique approach to the voice and its incredible yet often unexplored capacity, Invenio Singers carry the show along in a way that demands attention with needing to try.
They say that when acting cannot describe something, you sing it; when singing fails, say it through dance. With a show built primarily off conventions of physical theatre, the bodies on stage came together in one particular moment in mesmerising improvised choreography. When one was unable to save themselves, another came in as their saviour and latched on, melding together through unbroken connection of limbs in this fluid yet forceful movement. When the saved moved on, the saviour then needed saving, and with another person moving in as the new saviour, the cycle continues; until, in the final escapade, the saviour throws the distressee to the ground and steps on their face in an attempt to aggressively deny them and leave them. This image stuck with us in that it showed the survival instinct of the “every man for himself” attitude of society, especially post-trauma.
To support the breath-taking soundscape of our singing trio, there is an underlying support from the sound design. With the breeze of a gale wind coming to crescendo or alienating explosions jolting the audience into terror as they believe the house will fall down on top of them and leave them in their own wreckage, the audio design accomplishes the full spectrum of ebb and flow, both endangered and determined.
The lighting played a huge part in this storming performance. Like typical Melbourne weather with its clouds rolling over to blue skies to sporadic hail and total confusion, the lighting plots accentuated each feeling, each call for help and each punch in the gut with unmatched precision. Lighting Designer Richard Vabre should be commended for his shocking waves of light and shade, as well as the absolute warming calm of his golden washes, like the eye of the storm.
In the dramatic throes of desperation, the epilogue becomes the story in Song for a Weary Throat‘s idiosyncratic exploration of what comes after. Both delicate and dynamic with moments that tore the heartstrings in two, Song for a Weary Throat reminds us that, no matter the event, no matter the loss, no matter the trauma, there is and always will be hope even in the darkest of days.