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Caravan Boat Treehouse
Mudlark Theatre
Earl Arts Centre

March 24th, 2021

Mudlark Theatre is a company celebrated for its reliability in producing high quality productions of brand-new Australian work and with Stephanie Briarwood’s world premiere Caravan Boat Treehouse, they deliver this promise tenfold. This incredibly special production, which began its life in the pre-covid age, has survived through the harshest of theatrical terrains in 2020 and has brought with it a stunning return to Tasmanian theatre.

The play sees three separate characters, Mac, Jack and Sylvie as they navigate their way through a period of self-isolation. The reasons for each character’s self-exile stem predominantly from their own experiences of grief and loss. Whether that be of a loved one; of the loss of their sanity and their own mind; or through the loss of self, caused by doubt and anxieties produced via social media. The three actors do a fantastic job at creating the inner life and turmoil that these three characters have and bring with their performances a wealth of emotional power.

Fiontan Cassidy’s Mac was played with an affecting ferocity that sung even in the moments of solemn contemplation. His reason for isolation is the one we can connect with the most; he shuts himself off to deal with the grief of losing his partner. That loss is a feeling of physical and emotional isolation that everyone has experienced. Fiontan’s portrayal of the grieving Mac, was poignant in its subtleties. He kept distance from his gran and his best mate when they visited upon him; in not only physical distance but emotional distance and only once he lets go in a fit of emotional rage, does he finally feel the ability to connect with the others.

Travis Hennessey’s Jack lost us in a fascinating cocoon of freedom. While his character was the hardest of the three to fully grasp, he was in many ways a free spirit lost on the ocean. His character suffers from an emotional breakdown and uses his healing process to free himself of his pain at losing his mother. The “Boat” he lives on I see as a metaphor for his need to escape, as there is mention of his cocoon like shape in the mental hospital as looking like a boat. He creates “shapes” with his hands through meditation and relaxation and these are summoned out of a connection to kind spirits, and it is his kind spirit that connects all three characters in a beautiful sequence of movement culminating under the light of the Aurora.

The standout for me here was Tia Landeg’s Sylvie, who exiles herself to a treehouse after a barrage of hate on social media forces her to doubt her ability to become a good mother. In today’s generation and culture, social media can be used as such a destructive social weapon and Tia’s portrayal of a woman; who is only just coming to terms with her own impending motherhood; is forced into abandoning her life to liberate herself from the judgement of others. Her performance is full of natural gusto and the pain pours out in her final monologue about her own grief and the judgement associated with her profession as a tattooist. It’s utterly heartbreaking.

Cheyne Mitchell’s direction along with a beautifully realised Set Design from IO Performance build this world perfectly. It ran like clockwork; every moment is handled with the perfect timbre required for the intensity of the scene. There are compelling moments of meditative movement; with a clever touch having each character’s primary hand movement generate from their place of pain. Mac pulls his grief from his heart; Jack frees his from his Head and Sylvie lets hers out from her stomach.

However, this play isn’t as much a story of Isolation, and how freedom and space can be a transformative and essential path to salvation from grief; but instead, it shows us that genuine connection with one another is the incomparable strength we need. Every character finds that strength to move on through one kind spirit, a singular moment of connection that appears when we least expect it, and in the case of “Hippie Dan” it could literally sneak up on you. But this helps us grasp the importance of support and compassion in the human race.

What a fantastic message that leaves us with in a Post-Covid world, especially in the theatre. We as audience members and creatives all need to continue to support the arts just like we need to support each other. We need to reach out and connect with our friends, our loved ones and people who mean something to us. We no longer need to isolate ourselves, so we should reach out and connect with human spirit and the kindness and beauty from our community.  This show will help you take that step in rediscovering humanity, in all it’s beautiful, if painful, forms.

Review by Matt Taylor

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