Theatre review: Perpetual Stew at Midsumma festival


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A collection of vignettes centered on the dinner table. Perpetual Stew is like crashing a dinner party where the rules are tossed out the window (or, in this production’s case, smashed against the wall). The moment you enter the Black Box of The Motley Bauhaus as a dinner party “guest” you are greeted with a warm cup of miso soup – a nice touch that settles the audience into an hour of delicious chaos.  

The show, created and performed by Milly Walker, Charlie Lawrence, and Victoria Barlow, seamlessly moves between scenes. It tells a noir story that spans from an idealistic mouse in the country to a conversation between ants, fuelled by ant puns. It’s an ambitious feat for the production’s 60-minute runtime, but one that manages to keep the audience engaged throughout.  

Dinner scenes are the perfect playground for tension – think Pulp Fiction’s Fast-paced diningsThe absurdity of cene ‘Day-O’ rendition in Beetlejuice Or the tense family outing? Fleabag. They’re like pressure cookers of drama, where loaded silences, hidden agendas and polite small talk can explode at any moment. Perpetual Stew plays with these conventions – breaking societal norms and dinner etiquette with unorthodox table manners and questionable dishes – but never reaches explosion point. 

It’s difficult to discern whether the show’s runtime or the anthology format is the culprit here, but there are certainly moments that shine (hello TikTok scene and double date) and others that feel more like “filler”. Take the “fruit surprise”Scene (a Nod to Sex and the City’s Valentine’s Day sushi dinner). It’s a scene made up of a fairly muted argument, all text, and no subtext, that dissipates as quickly as it starts, leaving things unresolved.

While the lack of a clear narrative thread within each scene and across the overall production may leave you feeling as if you’re peeking into multiple worlds without fully immersing yourself in any of them, the ride is still delightful, thanks in no small part to the cast’s easy charm and enthusiasm.

Courtney Crisfield, Tori Barlow and the rest of the cast are the stars of the show. Their range of characters and outstanding performances steal the show. Crisfield’s ability to switch between accents and personas is impressive, while Barlow’s solo violin performance sets the stage with elegance and flair. 

The attention to detail is evident in the set design. Elements like the cardboard ant pills and tasteful table settings add authenticity to each scene. The seamless transitions are a testament to the skilful direction and choreography of the show’s creators. This is especially evident in the use the intimate space of Black Box with the blocking choices drawing audiences into the work.

Occasionally, characters venture beyond the dining tables to other settings like vet waiting room and mean city streets. This, while somewhat disruptive, adds a comedic flair that may compensate for the departure from the show’s central location and aesthetic. 

And, as with any dinner party, there are highs and lows – in this production the highs peak early, leaving the energy to wane slightly towards the end. Fortunately, Barlow’s burlesque routine, complete with fake mouse nipples, brings the energy back just in time for the curtain.

Read: Performance Review Portent (a ritual), Holmes à Court Gallery

In the end Perpetual StewThe show invites the audience to sit down and enjoy themselves. It’s a charming and ambitious production that could use a bit of fine-tuning, but it’s well worth the ride for a night of laughter and entertainment.

Perpetual Stew
Motley Bauhaus

Presented by: Milly Walke, Charlie Lawrence, and Victoria Barlow
Cast: Sam Eade Courtney Crisfield Conagh Punch 
Tickets: $28-$35

Perpetual StewMidsumma Festival, which runs until 10 February 2020, will feature performances. 

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