Fear (Not) @ Woodville Town Hall, Woodville 31/5/2019

We all have so many fears that need to be overcome on a regular basis and the Prospect Theatre for Young People in collaboration with Cirkidz explore a world that can be a very scary place for young people, in their world premiere offering for the DreamBIG Children’s Festival. Presented at the Woodville Town Hall, Fear (Not), breathes some youthful exuberance into this grand old theatre with its ornate proscenium arch and majestic balconies; in fact, almost every conceivable performance space is utilised with multiple exits and entrances. Even the balconies are used to splendid dramatic effect; but more about that later.

Various heights and layers are used in this play with a thrust stage that is half raised and half floor level used together with the traditional proscenium arch and balconies; and directors Margaret Steven and Jono Dragt achieve maximum chaos and order as the scenes require, while at times, more than 50 young people inhabit the many levels of the performance space. And the multi-levels don’t just stop with the architecture, there are multi-tiered performance techniques with Margaret Steven delving into The Theatre of Cruelty, Melodrama, Agitprop Political Theatre and Fantasy to explore some very important and necessary social issues that young actors and audiences need to confront.

Coupled with Jono Dragt’s inventive use of circus balances, circus apparatus, acrobatics and physical theatre, there are shades of some of the cutting-edge theatre work being done by Frantic Assembly, DV8 and Ann Bogart’s SITI. This is the new direction for contemporary theatre – juxtaposing a whole range of styles, techniques and technologies, and Steven and Dragt Fear Not leading this enormous cast through un-channelled territories.

The multi-layers extend right through to the ideas that are explored in this play, and because much of the work was devised during collaborative workshops with the young cast, layer upon layer of ideas are presented in this really engaging performance. The obvious youthful angsty anxieties like peer pressure, acceptance and rejection, the dangers of social media are all there, and rightly so. But these young people are telling us adults in the audience, that they also care about war and conflict and the ecological crisis that they are inheriting.

But the message in the play is clear – for every anxiety, Fear (Not), for there are solutions that can be found. And solutions can be found when young people build resilience that is nurtured in a strong community made up of ‘real people’ as opposed to the ‘virtual reality world’ of trolls and creeps as is presented in one of the scenes.

The coming together of the two disciplines of circus and theatre, although seamlessly interwoven throughout the performance, come together tightly in one very dramatic moment as one of the circus performers who threatened to jump off the balcony throughout the play, does so in the end, jumping close to three metres into the waiting arms of a supportive community, serving as a powerful visual metaphor for the underlying message in the play.

Fear (Not) is a very engaging and entertaining show with some really clever physical theatre devised by Jono Dragt. Margaret Steven has done well to create a performance that uses an authentic youthful voice and gives the play some really satisfying physical shape and tempo, while working so well with the minimalist set designed by Kerry Reid and subtly lit by Aaron Herczeg. All of this was sensitively underscored by an ambient soundscape devised by Lou Howard and you leave the theatre knowing that we have some really clever theatre practitioners working with the next generation of performers.

This is the second DreamBIG Children’s Festival performance that I have seen this year and I am impressed with not only the quality of work that is being produced in Adelaide, but that these artists have got such a good festival as an outlet to show off their creative offerings.

DreamBig Festival Review By Bob Becker