Review: Not Dead Yet, Theatreworks

A reviewer's ethical dilemma: I've been commissioned to write a review of a new play as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The play is Not Dead Yet, a collaboration between Born in a Taxi (a well established physical theatre company) and Rawcus, a community theatre group for people with a disability. If the play is great, I'm free to say so. But if it's crap...? Should it be judged by the critical standards that other theatrical productions are judged by, or should it be treated more sympathetically by virtue of its positive social purpose?

Here's what I wrote. Am I a bastard?:

Death. It’s a word that you whisper. Utter, perhaps, with a pained grimace. Never spoken, though, and certainly never performed in a song and dance extravaganza. Until now.

It seems strange that death is a subject that most of us are so unwilling to talk about it. Though it’s something that we’ll all need to confront at one time or another, many of us feel that by remaining silent we can somehow avoid the inevitable. Deep down, most of us have a fear of our own mortality: a fear of being reminded that our existence on this planet is brief and fleeting and our death as natural as the process which brought us to life in the first place.

Not Dead Yet seeks to normalize death. Far from being a sombre portrayal, at many times it’s a happy and upbeat presentation, with moments of wickedly funny black comedy. A pulsating soundtrack is provided courtesy of a large Mikardo-style drum at the back of the stage, and a talented team of musicians play a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional instruments. Credit should go to Tania Bosak and Jethro Woodward for taking such an imaginative and lively approach to sound.

The universal fate that awaits us all is an interesting theme, and although the intention is worthy, the execution is clumsy. The production is desperately crying out for some strong direction rather than the confused and haphazard approach taken. The play consists of poorly defined and oddly confused sketches broadly focused on the theme of death. Whilst a few of the sketches hit the mark – a Catholic Priest delivering the last rites is particularly clever – many of them seem to drag on cumbersomely.

Not Dead Yet is the cheekily titled new experimental theatre production collaboratively produced by Born in a Taxi and Rawcus. The two production companies have an unusual history, and this is the second time they have worked together, after producing Born Rawcus in 2003. Born in a Taxi is a well established physical theatre company who have created a distinctive, outlandish theatrical style for themselves. Rawcus is a community theatre group incorporating several performers with and without disabilities. The two companies seem to work well together, with the professionalism of one combining with the raw enthusiasm of the other.

One thing that makes this production particularly adventurous is its fusion of many media. As well as a creative presentation of live music, the production also includes inventive choreography, biting comedy, touching drama and a postmodern deconstruction of the theatrical form. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses, but always it takes a chance.


Born Dancin' said…
Fair review; I thought the show was fantastic despite the incoherency you note (maybe even because of it). You're not being too harsh at all, though, and if you can't be critical like this you may as well not be reviewing.

In my opinion there was a strong structure underlying the thing, but it was hidden under a few layers of clothing. The story of the girl who dies at the beginning (with the yapping dog toy) and her journey afterwards was sort of unnecessary, but you could sometimes work out the meaning behind a scene after it was done (ie the scene where performers play out their fondest hopes for the afterlife; the one where they enact ways of dying, etc).
hamsandwich3000 said…
Ari Sharp. I think your completely missing the point.

I read your article .... Some points I disagree
with, others have merit. One thing is clear,
though. It wasn't particularly well written.

This leaves me with an ethical dilemma.
Should I be less harsh on a critic because
he is a student, inexperienced and still
developing his craft?

I mean, I want to give him a fair go
because I think that we should nurture talent
in the arts - including the critics.

If the review is informative and well
considered, I'm free to say so.
But if it's crap...?

Am I a bastard?

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