Roslyn Packer Theatre, January 16


Here was something to bend the brain and fire off the synapses like so many New Year’s Eve crackers. This was theatre as spectacle, magic, image, poetry, didacticism and even cinema.

To ask what it’s about is both the right and the wrong question. It’s the wrong question because, while its creators may not see it this way, for me its essence is not its subject. For it to be a succession of extraordinary images is enough, and meaning need not be imposed upon them. It’s certainly more than enough to be reduced – or exalted! – to a state of wonderment – rather like when you were little, and saw for the first time a beach, a cat, a fire hydrant, a worm or a waterfall. It can be sufficient that such things simply are, without questioning why.

Photos: Victor Frankowski.

It’s also the right question, because the creators have strived to ensure you do ponder its meaning. The title, Are we not drawn onward to new erA, is a palindrome, and the piece itself is structurally and narratively palindromic. Specifically it’s about what we’ve done to the planet and how we could undo it, encapsulated in 75 minutes.

It begins with a couple, an apple and a tree, minus the snake. Subsequently the tree is destroyed, and hundreds of brightly coloured plastic bags stream from the flies. I’ve never seen plastic bags look so beautiful; never thought they could have an aesthetic impact akin to a bed of flowers. Then a giant bronze-coloured statue is dragged on in pieces, and once it’s erected we see it’s not a general or a politician, but a youth in jeans and tee-shirt; one of us, if you like, because ultimately “we” make history just as much as do the so-called eminent. When the statue is engulfed in dry ice, we’ve reached the half-way mark, whereupon these events all start happening backwards – or forwards, depending on your point of view. But we’ll come to that.

Devised by Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed company, the show is directed by Alexander Devriendt, with dramaturgy by Jan Murtens and scenography by Philip Aguirre. Its six actors communicate more with movement than words, and when they do speak, it’s initially in a backwards gobbledegook that becomes intelligible later. A particular joy is the music: William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, recorded by Spectra Ensemble, which is equally disquieting and entrancing.

Photos: Victor Frankowski.

As is the show, itself. The disquieting part is the implication of us standing on the precipice of our own destruction via climate change, and still doing too little to avert catastrophe, it seems. That said, I wish the didactic element were less bald. As important as it is, the message – “We can’t undo what we did. We can only move forward one step at a time” – is so overtly preachy as to intrude on the prevailing visual poetry, rather than being thoroughly interwoven.

Of just as much interest are the more general philosophical implications of our capacity to undo what we have done. On an obvious level this applies to our ability to reverse climate change, but it also applies on a micro level to our capacity to counter the wrongs we have done to others; to redress the hurt of our words and actions. The show has deep roots in this regard.

As for how it travels backwards? I was fibbing. I shan’t give that away. You’ll just have to see it. You won’t forget it.