Director Clare Watson and collaborators, including performers Laila Bano Rind, Adriane Daff, Harriet Marshall, and Katherine Tonkin, have devised this new show to pay tribute to Xenides and to examine the roles that women play on stage, on screen and in life. The results of the devising process is a wonderfully quirky and heart-warming musical theatre experience.
The show juxtaposes stories from Xenides’ life with reflections from the four performers from their own lives. It is as if the devising process began as an investigation into Xenides’ life, but soon included the performers turning the mirror on themselves: their insecurities, experiences, regrets, and the trap of competing with and comparing themselves to each other. Ultimately, these musings are sparked by Xenides’ complex story. She was a woman who was largely misunderstood and misrepresented in the glossy magazines and tabloid newspapers, yet she craved the spotlight and attention. Xenides reportedly spent hours in newsagents scouring through magazines and newspapers to read the stories written about her.
Through a series of vignettes and musical interludes we are given glimpses of the Xenides story: from rags to riches, the migrant’s journey, the glamorous TV icon, and the less dazzling portrayal of the various illnesses and conditions that led to her tragic death at the age of 54. The marvellous Wheel of Fortune set by designer Zoe Atkinson portrays the glitz of the TV show, while the carpeted platform and steps, perhaps inadvertently, reflects the precariousness of the Xenides experience. Some of the performers seem to carefully navigate the slippery surface in their golden heels, while Adrianne Daff often takes to sliding across it. Thankfully the choreography by Laura Boynes is suitably restrained, allowing the lyrics of the songs to be understood since they add to the storytelling. Musical director and composer of the original songs Xani Kolac also plays violin in the three-piece band, accompanied by Djuna Lee on bass and Holly Norman on drums. The songs and their delivery are suitably quirky and amusing and add to the style of the show. I did feel that the drums were a little too loud in the first song and drowned out the lyrics somewhat.
Watson has allowed each performer to shine: drawing on their strengths and skills so that we learn more about them as artists. Given the right subject matter and scale, devised theatre can belong on a main stage and doesn’t have to be relegated to small, independent spaces. Watson’s generosity and inclusivity as Artistic Director is apparent in this production and in the 2018 and 2019 seasons that she has programmed. Consequently, there is a deep sense of comradery amongst the four women in “Xenides”. It is difficult to single out one performer from another as the piece is purely ensemble: each one exuding irreverence, humility and a sense of humour in equal measure.
The show provides valuable insights into the insecurities of women, in this instance shining a spotlight on female performers in a tough and unforgiving industry who will undermine each other to gain the upper hand and to feel superior, but which, ultimately, creates isolation and disunity. This is when the devising process becomes purposeful. Watson, Bano Rind, Daff, Marshall and Tonkin have focused the process on exposing behaviour and attitudes, and sharing these insights, which speaks to the value of collaboration and a utopian vision for a generous and inclusive industry.
“Xenides” is showing at the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, Perth until 11 November 2018. Tickets
Collaborators include Virginia Gay, Sophie Ross
Creatives – Director: Clare Watson,
Musical Director & Composer: Xani Kolac, Musician: Djuna Lee, Musician: Holly Norman, Set Designer: Zoe Atkinson, Costume Designer: Sarah Duyvestyn, Choreographer: Laura Boynes, Lighting Designer: Richard Vabre, Lighting Design Associate: Chloe Ogilvie, Assistant Director: Katt Osborne
Photo credit:Dana Weeks