RUMPUS Theatre Association. RUMPUS. 20 Oct 2021
RUMPUS is a grass roots collective of theatre makers founded in 2019 by Yasmin Gurreeboo, Nescha Jelk and Rebecca Mayo and now an epicentre of Bowden’s Bohemian charm. Ensconced in a converted factory, I was taken back 35 years to Bruno & Vallee Knez’s La Mama Theatre in Hindmarsh with their similar great gusto and low budget. RUMPUS is a most welcoming space with a retro feel peopled with welcoming people.
In this world premiere, playwright Michèle Saint-Yves juxtaposes her personal experience of an acquired brain injury against dealing with her father’s Alzheimer’s disease. Her production intelligently utilises many supportive theatrical design elements including mood-altering lighting, screen projections (audio-visual, digital & lighting designer Mark Oakley) and singing. The creative team make extraordinary efforts to ensure that the show is a “relaxed performance” – that is, it is “adapted to be accessible to autistic audiences, as well as audience members with sensory or communication conditions or learning disabilities” (definition from: www.a-tistic.com.au). There is also a wealth of information about the show and how to enjoy it on the RUMPUS website and via QR codes in the theatre. The producers claim their attention to audience needs is unparalleled and the good feeling one gets from being present to all these efforts is worth your attendance, even if you don’t need them (“the curb effect” – look it up; another thing I learned) – co-aesthetic designers Bianka Kennedy & Katherine Cooper.
In line to enter the theatre from the lobby, everybody gets to hold a balloon to feel the vibrations of Jennifer Liston singing a song onto it, but this takes ages. The ambience in the theatre is soothing yet unusual. After a melancholic rendition of The Way We Were by Liston, actor Jo Stone’s Simone staggers and limps onto the stage space with a cane looking like death warmed over. We see a very worried and bewildered individual wondering about, and already tired of, what is happening to her. With great effort, she is assisted into an MRI scanner to find out. This was the most dramatic and successful scene of the show.
Saint-Yves is both director and writer. She doesn’t shy away from technically establishing in medical terms exactly what is a sub-arachnoid cyst, or how the cosmic webs that hold together the galaxies of the universe are metaphor for the brain webs of her cyst and Dad’s dementia. Much of the rest of the evening is taken up with Simone’s dialogue with Dad presented as a series of vignettes based presumably on Saint-Yves own experience. They are interesting but a dramatic blind alley. There is also narration voiced by Saint-Yves that is weaved with the player’s scenes (While the script is presented on two monitors continually, only the narrator is signed; watching “melanocortin 1 receptor” visualised in Auslan was marvelous). Many of Liston’s scenes with Paul Reichstein as dear Dad dealt heart-tugging scenes of helplessness handled with love and the humour of acceptance, but they are similar and unfortunately for some of us, familiar.
Saint-Ives work is part play-part poem, a catalogue of her experiences demonstrating excellent and ironic comparisons and contrasts of her and her Dad’s neurological conditions. There is much to take away from Simone’s resilience, but the good work lacks a narrative arc or dramatic devices like change in pace or conflict to raise the result from intriguing to compelling.
When: 20 to 31 Oct 2021