fri 12/07/2024

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Maureen / Common Dissonance | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Maureen / Common Dissonance

Edinburgh Fringe 2023 reviews: Maureen / Common Dissonance

Warm-hearted wisdom from an 80-something plus ambitious circus at House of Oz

Jonny Hawkins as feisty, flirty, sometimes dirty 80-something MaureenJess Shurte

Maureen, House of Oz 

Make yourself comfortable – we’ll be here for a while. That’s what our host, 80-something Maureen, advises us several times during the course of her unhurried, hypnotically vivid reminscences of a life lived to the full. The era-defining, population-shifting changes she’s witnessed across her home neighbourhood of King’s Cross, Sydney. The teenage lover who disappeared into the turmoil of World War Two and returned changed forever. The soulmate whose death celebrations she staged with exquisite care. The little black book in which she records the dates of passing of all those she knew (it’s an increasingly long list).

Maureen is no guardian angel, though, still less some kind of idealised grandmother figure. In actor/writer Jonny Hawkins’s bewitching solo show, she’s a flesh-and-bones, flirty, sometimes dirty woman with needs and desires that she expects to be fulfilled. But it’s her fierce grip on life – all its uncertainties and traumas as well as its joys – that makes Maureen such an unforgettable figure, and the abundant warmth with which she remembers those cherished figures from her past.

Hawkins dons wrap-around skirt, jewels and lippy in an almost ritualistic transformation into the character they've created, an amalgam – they explain before the show itself begins – of women they've interviewed, watched, read about. Their performance teems with detail and nuance, as moods and memories flick across Maureen’s face, and director Nell Ranney devotes careful attention to all those passing details amid the rich, almost claustrophobic drapes of designer Isabel Hudson’s heavily decorated living-room set. It’s a show that prods at conventions, gently shocks, and gives voice to a wisdom and insight that’s too often disregarded. Expect warmth and sadness, a life rich in incident, and probably a biscuit or two.

Common DissonanceCommon Dissonance, House of Oz 

The performers of Melbourne-based Na Djinang Circus clearly have some serious skills, as showy and thoroughly entertaining setpieces on rings and diabolo demonstrate. But their House of Oz show Common Dissonance attempts to harness those abilities in the service of something more thematically ambitious. The dissonance of the title lies between modern-day scientific understanding and older, less defined, more spiritual beliefs – not something it’s necessarily easy to convey in a wordless show that relies almost entirely on movement and acrobatics. And though it’s not always straightforward to discern a narrative behind Na Djinang’s striking stage images, certain things emerge: a discovery of the body, perhaps by a newborn; support and competition between performers; ultimately the desire to understand, and to pass on knowledge to future generations.

It’s a strong proposition, and one that sporadically brings Common Dissonance into sharp focus, certainly as pigments are mixed to scrawl a rudimentary piece of indigenous art. And certain images – a pair of scissors neatly bringing Na Djinang founder Harley Mann’s diabolo magic to an abrupt halt, for example – lodge firmly in the memory. But ultimately it feels like a slippery, elusive creation, one more laden with meaning than a simple succession of skills, but one that remains teasingly opaque. Nonetheless, Common Dissonance is a quietly captivating, intimate show of great charm.

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