Review: THE SHEEP SONG – ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2023 at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

A wordless modern fable.

By: Mar. 18, 2023
Review: THE SHEEP SONG – ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2023 at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre
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Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 17th March 2023.

FC Bergman theatre collective's wordless, absurdist morality play, The Sheep Song, is far removed from the promise in J. S. Bach's cantata, that "Sheep May Safely Graze". Somebody should have been watching over this flock more closely, one in particular. Be careful for what you wish. This sheep wishes to be human, its wish is granted, and it becomes half-sheep, half-human. The sheep is, initially, very happy about this, until it interacts with a wide range of humans, good, and bad. It becomes clear that it now fits into neither the world of sheep, nor the world of humans.

FC Bergman is a collective of four people: Stef Aerts, Joé Agemans, Thomas Verstraeten, and Marie Vinck, now a member company of Toneelhuis. Their previous work has been site-specific, so this production, designed for a conventional theatre, is a departure for them. It is by Jonas Vermeulen, Stef Aerts, Joé Agemans, Thomas Verstraeten, Marie Vinck, and Matteo Simoni, performed by Stef Aerts, Bart Hollanders, Titus De Voogdt, Marie Vinck, Dries De Win, and Joé Agemans.

A naked man, his head hidden under a red cloth, pulls on a rope to ring a large bell suspended over the front of the stage. A musician at from the side of the stage, dressed in a hooded cloak, plays a five-string banjo. In the background, a small flock of sheep, yes, real sheep, mill about, their hooves clicking on the hard surface of the stage. The lighting is low, coming only from directly above, or the side throughout the performance. One of the sheep tries to stand upright, using the backs of other sheep for support. He eventually succeeds, walking shakily at first, and then becoming more confident and capable. So begins the journey of a sheep who wants to be human.

It is an animal fable, but don't expect Aesop. Gary Larson would be closer to the mark.

The world of mankind is not compatible with sheep, even one who is shorn, dressed, and undergoes cosmetic surgery in an effort to look more human. A four-string tenor banjo appears, but his hooves make it unplayable, at first. Some ignore him, some copy his movements, some attack him, a guide dog, yes, a real dog, barks at him. Along the way, he has a couple of hilarious encounters with a travelling puppeteer and his perverted puppet. Disillusioned, he eventually returns to the flock, but they reject him as he is no longer one of them, any more than he is one with humans. There is no going back

For the most part, the set is based on two parallel travellators which constantly vary in speed and change direction, following the movement of cast members and set pieces. The sheep is always moving, but going nowhere. "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," he used to say. "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to." The sheep, on its awkward two feet, is swept off to places he didn't expect. His dreams become nightmares.

Equally as important as the performances, and the choreography, are the technical parts of the production: the music of Frederik Leroux-Roels, combined with Senjan Janssen's sound design, Joëlle Meerbergen's costumes, and Ken Hioco's lighting. They are not adjuncts, they are integral to the performance.

There are, of course, many layers to the production and, possibly, as many interpretations made by those who see it as there are layers. It is a work that is rich with metaphor and symbolism, but that is for you to explore when you see this marvellous production.


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