Directed by Jim Fishwick
The Jetpack Theatre Collective
The Small Boat Dock
Maliyawul Street, Lilyfield
Season: 12 – 25 November (7pm, 8pm, 9pm every night excluding Mondays)
For the majority of the time, dramatists allow themselves to be enclosed by the proscenium arch, limited by the bounds of a standard theatrical space. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and magic undoubtedly can occur within these confines. However, it is rejuvenating for artists to break free from this box and experiment with performance in new environments, and exhilarating for audiences to lose their security blanket of their comfortable cushioned seat multiple metres away from the performers, and experience something totally new. The Jetpack Theatre Collective have proven themselves adept at disregarding theatrical norms, and continue to create new work in an excitingly unconventional manner. Pea Green Boat is no exception, standing as an incomparable theatrical experience as the audience hops into a little pea green boat with the performers and row through the water, to be enlightened by the tale.
Comedian Stewart Lee’s work is inspired by Edward Lear’s bedtime story classic, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat. However he has read into the plot details to reimagine the owl’s experience, being stuck on a boat with its natural predator, a cat, for days on end. Often dark humour is employed to subvert the nature of the story. The contrast between the whimsical fairy-tale world and the black comedy that teases its way throughout the story is at times unsettling, conflicting audience response between amusement and alarm. Lee’s writing is infused with a lilting poeticism that is synchronous with the gentle rocking of the rowboat, further highlighting the appropriateness of the setting for the piece.
Hannah Cox takes on the role of the Owl with staunch focus and a seeming fearlessness. Her utter belief in the Owl’s experience ensconces audience members in the fantasy, captivated as she speaks, looking you directly in the eye. This is an intimacy between the audience and the performer that is rarely experienced, and which the proxemics of the work take full advantage of. You can sense her fear, consternation for the future, and yet a warmth that develops as her relationship with the Pussy-Cat grows, in spite of the odds. Jim Fishwick rows the boat, taking the position of a neutral bystander and somewhat of a Pussy-Cat figure, framing the piece with recitation of Lear’s original poem. I imagine it would be curious to watch audience reactions to play out in each performance, with individual backgrounds and personalities subtly nuancing responses to the work. In this sense, Pea Green Boat may be self-reflexive as the observers are observed. Alexander Richmond appears on the bank as the Turkey, to marry the Owl and the Pussy-Cat. Yet again, this surreal materialisation of a creature emphasises the fantastical nature of the unexpected.
The attention to detail with this work is delightful, and illustrates the resolute dedication of the creatives to the piece. Prudent planning of every facet of the experience allows a vision of this audacity to be brought into actuality. You can’t get past the fact that you are being told a story about an owl and a pussy-cat in the very pea green boat of the narrative. The outlook is dreamlike, as you catch a glimpse of the sparkling backdrop with lights reflecting off the water, an ideal environment for this performance to play out.
It requires immense boldness to push past the commonplace and to try something rarely done before. Jetpack Theatre Collective do just that, with chutzpah and artistic flair. With considerable investment of time, effort and finances in creating art, it is unsurprising that sometimes theatrical works can feel a bit safe. I take my figurative hat off to the creative individuals willing to take a risk with this work, and implore everyone to take a very well calculated risk on this show and try something new. It will be good for you, trust me.