Forget what you know about theatre, and be prepared to see The Eisteddfod with a very open mind. The play, which opened over the weekend at the Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, is a two-hander about a pair of orphaned siblings with pipe dreams, vying to win the town’s annual entertainment competition after years of trying.
The scenery is as basic as you can get for theatre, the minimal cast shacked up on a shoddy bed, living out of cardboard boxes, quite literally. But that’s where kudos must go to bold actors Brendan Ewing and Natalie Holmwood who prove their worth through articulate delivery of one very esoteric script – without the need for smoke and mirrors.
Big brother Abalone (Ewing) and kid sis Gerture (Holmwood) live rather different lives; he with too much time on his hands, spending most of his days preparing to win the town’s biggest community entertainment award; she a teacher of languages currently coping with a breakup from her boyfriend. But the one thing they have in common is an urgent desire to escape which they do by coming up with a wacky version of Hamlet to win judges’ praise. Escapism is the key theme in The Eisteddfod, whether it’s through the characters reminiscing of old times or imagining their trip to Moscow (the main prize in the competition).
But while elements of escapism run through most of the play, to the point of it coming across as absurdist comedy for the most part, suddenly things get darker before final curtain. I won’t spoil the ending for you, suffice to say the big question on everyone’s lips after the show was ‘Did she or didn’t she?’.
If you like your theatre with straight and clear narrative, slick costuming and backdrops, and an ensemble of plenty, this isn’t the show for you. But if you can appreciate minimal aesthetics and sharp, edgy dialogue that leaves you thinking, then you’ll ‘get’ The Eisteddfod. If only just. Antonino Tati
‘The Eisteddfod’ is on at Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA, running until Sunday 9 July. For tickets visit http://www.bsstc.com.au.