BWW REVIEW: A New Generation Finding Solace From The Perceived Pressures Of Life Is Presented in SHEPHERD
Wednesday 26th February 2020, 6:45pm, Downstairs at Belvoir St
Liam Maguire's SHEPHERD shares a modern age method of coping with the stress of the connected community. Comic yet still disturbing, this new work presented as part of Belvoir's 25a program at first feels insane but on closer contemplation echoes past methods of managing when the life gets too much.
The 90-minute work also directed by Maguire looks at a world where so many things are causing anxiety, particularly via the media and social networks of the connected digital age leading to a new generation to go looking for a way to cope. Anna (Grace Victoria) and her philosophy on life provides a refuge from this world of seemingly being told what we should be doing, what we should look like, what we should have achieved be socially mandated milestones. To the outsider not swept up in her hype, her particular 'brand' of 'therapy' feels akin to a religious cult as she has her clients/followers give in to deciding to 'want bliss' over the other 'demands' set by social media but the achievement of this goal has a disturbing outcome.
Presented on a central circular dias, designed by Ella Butler (Set and Costume Designer), that serves as a focal point of the devotion to the leader this work has a simple aesthetic. Minimal additions of simple chairs, beach towel and floor mats provide visual variety, but the main detail comes from Maguire's text. With spirited emotions from challenged souls this work does however tend to get quite shouty for the small black box space where overprojection and yelling is keenly felt wherever you sit in the small theatre.
Grace Victoria presents a cold, calculating and incredibly judgmental leader and mentor making it hard for any outsider to see why Anna has such power over her 'flock' but it's potentially the same inexplicable control that other religious leaders have had with a charisma that you had to be open to in order to succumb. The 'poster child' for her philosophy is the near mute Mark who Adam Sollis presents with some incredibly nuanced physical expression where the change of a gaze says so much.
The counter to the odd devotion is Kate's (Rose Riley) former partner Nick (Jacob Warner) who for the most part isn't drawn into the bizarre world of attaining bliss, opting for a life of energy, passion, conflict and emotional involvement even if it does seem as if he's more focused on himself than Kate. Kate, along with transitioning inmates Elsa (Cece Peters) and Lewis (Mark Paguio) are still at various levels of belief and acceptance of Anna's ideals. Of the trio, Kate's anxieties stem from more altruistic intent, wishing that her environmental activism had more impact and Riley gives us hope that the seemingly sane woman will soon see sense as she staunchly refuses to return to Nick and also resists blithely following Anna's 'commands'. Peters and Paguio's portrayals of Elsa and Lewis respectively present the more vapid ambitions borne out of modern social media driven pressures with equal commitment to the absurdity of their characters.
As previous generations of devotees have found their religions, 'self help' gurus, mentors and mystics, this is a model for a new source of 'answers' with a strong commentary on all of those that went before. Like little sheep following a leader or lap dogs devoid of any individual though or care or concern for the world around, SHEPHERD is a reminder to reassess what is important, who we should be listening to and the need to ensure that we maintain independent minds capable of conscious considered thought.