The Last Great Hunt’s first main stage show demonstrates that they deserve to be there. Alison Croggon on Lé Nør
Lé Nør (The Rain) makes me feel sorry I haven’t seen any of The Last Great Hunt’s previous shows. It’s a remarkable feat of imagination, the creation of a deeply thought-through alternative reality brought to life with some superbly ingenious theatre making.
The Last Great Hunt is, like the sea levels in Lé Nør, rising fast. In a few short years, this young Perth company has gained a reputation for making accomplished theatre, with acclaimed Fringe shows and a Helpmann nomination. In this year’s Perth Festival they’ve hit the main stage with their most ambitious show yet, making it abundantly clear that they deserve to be there.
There are so many layers to this show, it’s hard to know where to begin. I guess, as a writer of speculative fiction myself, it’s unsurprising that I should admire the depth of the world building. The conceit is that we’re following the intimate lives of a group of people who live in an apartment block on an island-state in the north Atlantic called Sólset. Once a wealthy metropolis, it has fallen on hard times because of a decades-long drought that has put everyone on the island on water rations.
Narrated by director Tim Watts, it’s a kind of theatrical Melrose Place for the age of climate change. The show is introduced by a WWF-style face-off between celebrity fighters Adriane Daff and Arielle Gray, whose job is to propagandise water rationing. Their faces dominate a billboard above the apartment block whose dramas we follow. One couple, Inez (Gita Bezard) and Leal (Jeffrey Jay Fowler), is having a baby; Eliza (Arielle Gray) and Soren (Adriane Daff) are rockily falling in love; Suzette (Jo Morris) is suffering through a breakup and Petri (Chris Isaacs) is losing his best friend Tobe (Jeffrey Jay Fowler), who is leaving Sólset.
The details of living in Sólset are deftly stroked in through the lives of the characters we’re following: one works in the desalination plant; a new flatmate, instead of begging a neighbour for sugar, asks if she can borrow some water; another is a rescue worker. Impressively, it’s performed in an entirely made up language (a mixture, we’re told, of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Icelandic and Afrikaans, with a bit of Bulgarian and a touch of Arabic). Fortunately for the audience, there are surtitles.
The Sólsetians (?) are locked in a kind of ‘80s timewarp: we encounter the characters in a bunch of impressive wigs, permed and mulleted to the nines, green eyeshadow up to their eyebrows. And we get the glam hits of the time: Phil Collins, 10CC, Stevie Nicks, Heart, Tear for Fears…
All this is bold enough, but it’s performed as a foreign language film that’s made in front of our eyes through a variety of devices – hand held cameras, ingenious close-ups, a little puppetry –projected onto the scrim that bisects the stage at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. We can see the performers at work making the scenes, both in front of the scrim and behind it, which generates an extra layer of artifice.
I’ve watched several iterations of this video technique in the theatre, and The Last Great Hunt’s realisation is as good as I’ve seen. But it’s merely a technique, however well done; what’s most interesting is what it permits the company to do, which is to create a reality that winds us into its emotional complexities, with the doubling of intensity that comes with well-rendered artifice. This is mostly down to the quality of the performances, which are all confidently complex, with a glittering surface of comedy that opens up to rifts of feeling.
As audience members, we are constantly reminded that this world is being constructed in front of our eyes. This permits something else to happen, perhaps a lifting of internal psychic defences: we know it’s not real, so we can more fully imagine the reality of what it means to experience, like the characters we’re following, the extinction of our known world. I suspect that at 90 minutes it’s a little too long; something in the dramaturgy sags in the middle. But aside from that mild quibble, it’s hard to fault.
Lé Nør reminds me strongly of the filmed theatricalities of the Swedish film maker Roy Andersson, and not only because Nordic sounds dominate their polyglot language. In films such as Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, Andersson also follows the intimate lives of his various characters through strange, banal, moving, cruel or surreal vignettes that are heightened by the artifice of his film-making (Andersson’s sets are theatrical stages, optical illusions for film).
Lé Nør is almost an inversion of Andersson’s techniques: they transform low-fi film making into an enormously enjoyable theatrical conceit, creating a compelling reality that remains always adjacent to ours. Maybe what’s most impressive is that, despite all the complexities of the production, you end up caring most about what happens to this motley group of characters: the quality that most recalls Andersson is the sense of human fragility and resilience in the face of the ongoing existential dilemma that is being alive.
Lé Nør (The Rain), co-created, performed and directed by Tim Watts. Co-created and performed by Adriane Daff, Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs. Performed by Gita Bezard, Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Jo Morris. Associate director Matt Edgerton, sound designer and composer Ben Collins, set and gadget designer Anthony Watts, art director and stylist Caitri Jones. Production manager Michael Maclean, stage manager Clare Testoni, assistant stage manager Kristie Smith. The Last Great Hunt at PICA, Perth festival until February 24. Bookings Mandurah Performing Arts Centre Feb 28-March 2 Bookings
This performance contains sexual references, mild coarse language, flashing/strobing lighting effects and adult themes (including references to suicide and self-harm) that some audiences may find confronting.
Wheelchair access. 50 per cent visual content