Where Shall We Meet? A Harness Ensemble Production – Shopfront Arts Co-Op (NSW)

Directed by Natalie Rose and Jane Phegan

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Rating: 4 out of 5.

5th – 9th October
Shopfront Arts Co-Op
Tickets: https://shopfront.org.au/events/where-shall-we-meet-a-harness-ensemble-production/

Does anyone ever feel like they truly fit in – as we are – flaws, quirks, uniqueness and all?

When exploring this piece, I found it a thankful blessing that directors Natalie Rose and Jane Phegan chose to move away from the collective experience of the last two years. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve had quite enough of it on our television screens, social media feeds and our own lived experiences. Instead, the focus of Where Shall We Meet? lands on our inherent desire to want to be seen, to find connection with those around us, and ultimately find a place we truly fit.

The Harness Ensemble itself is made up of nine performers, some of which may be living with disability and/or mental health diagnoses. However, Rose and Phegan ensure that this doesn’t define the work they create – which I believe is the beauty that Shopfront Arts captures. Harrison Bishop, Madison Chippendale, Lana Filies, Amelia Gilday, Lily Hayman, Steve Konstantopoulos, Nick Vagne, Sophie Florence Ward, and Kate Wooden make themselves known through the development of the truest form of an ensemble.

Beginning on a blank white stage with reems of craft paper stringing the back wall, hiding something particularly intriguing from view, we are given audio visual descriptions from Konstantopoulos of the cast setting the stage. We are then introduced to each one of our ensemble members with a personal introduction. I found it a clever way to break down the fourth wall immediately and invite the audience to form a personal connection to the piece. We hear about Konstantopoulos’ love of Grant Denyer, Filies’ proclivity for pink attire and Ward’s obsession with aliens among other traits that define the ensemble.

With choreographic consultation by Martin Del Amo, the ensemble guided us through a vignette of pieces that provided a visual feast for the eyes. The highlights of choreography came when the cast stood in lines throughout the space, repeating movements in isolation until they ultimately synchronised. Through doing this, Phegan and Rose embedded visual motifs of connection and disconnection.

A game played by the cast where offers were made to attract the member next to them was either accepted or rejected and passed back down the line. Ultimately the chaotic nature of desire for connection broke away from this game and was instead placed on the audience. This was perhaps the most powerful visual for me as the ensemble tried every means necessary to capture your attention and desire for a visual connection with you. The climax of this came as Chippendale broke into a manic laughter that riddled you with anxiety and made me shift in my seat, such was the control of her energy thrown into the space.

These Avant Garde scenes were broken up with direct moments of storytelling from the ensemble members. There were moments of pure laughter from letters written to poorly designed slides, and one’s love for Jurassic Park. Others offered fleeting moments of connection in European countries, and the spider web traps one makes to force others to be their best friend. Wooden’s story of living alone and the Mission Impossible-styled journey to find a theatre friend to take your spare ticket felt deeply resonant with myself – I see you Kate Wooden.

This is a production that offers a visual buffet for its audience, while allowing you to feel safely uncomfortable and sit with the universal desire we have all felt to be seen and accepted for who we are

There were moments of the production that felt like they still belonged in a workshopped piece rather than a finalised production, but these were fleeting and never entirely diverted you from the main messages of the show itself.

With a final reveal of what lay behind the craft paper curtain, there was a beautiful piece of closure that wrapped the piece up concisely and left me with a pure ‘wow’ moment.

This is a production that offers a visual buffet for its audience, while allowing you to feel safely uncomfortable and sit with the universal desire we have all felt to be seen and accepted for who we are. With a slick ensemble and direction that is at times funny, confronting, and heartfelt, Where Shall We Meet? is my top recommendation for thought provoking, progressive and resonant theatre.

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Directors: Natalie Rose and Jane Phegan
Co-Composers: Jack Prest and Frank Dwyer
Production Manager + Lighting Designer Tyler Fitzpatrick
Choreographic Consultant: Martin Del Amo
Set and Costume Support: Margot Politis
Youth Assistant: Mabelle Rose
Technical Operators: Darcy Duncan and Frank Dwyer
Technical Assistants: Jeremy Ainsworth, Tom Doyle, Lily Hayman, Jess Henley-Sadgrove
Photos supplied by Shopfront Arts Co-Op

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