Once Under a Sky

Two women, two raincoats, a bucket, some puddles, the desert and the sea.

The Newtown Theatre is a space that I’ve been to a few times, I like going there (close to home, cool foyer, friendly/unpretentious, unnaturally spongy chairs) but I’ve never liked what I’ve seen there. This is by no means a reflection upon everything that is produced in the space; but of the shamefully few things that I have seen there, I have not been inspired to return in a hurry. Once Under a Sky comes some way to changing my tune about this.

Seasoned physical theatre performers Freya Sant and Kate Sherman, teamed up with director Michael Pigott and devised the work Once Under a Sky. It is a story about two fisherwomen, and this story is told in the time it takes to find a good fishing spot. But it is much more than that. It is a personal history. It is a story of two outsiders. It is a story about co-dependence and love, in ways similar to A Tiny Chorus. It is dream-like: space and time seem stable, but are not. In all this, Once Under a Sky has the potential to be an amazing adventure. But, I don’t think it is a finished work yet.

To reflect honestly upon my experience: this was a Fringe production, and I really felt the limitations of the Fringe format when I saw this show. Some performances are like Tents, easy to put up and down, ideal for the Fringe. Others are not. I think Once Under a Sky looks like a Tent but, to extend this terrible analogy, it is actually more like a Kit Home: more difficult to construct and more permanent than you might think. I’m sure the performers are aware of this. It is a simple story, but I wanted less simple lighting. Also, I was not sure if there needed to be a set, but I am also not sure if the space should be black. I wished the sound provided more of something … but it’s not really my place to suggest what that “something” is. But if I was in the business of suggesting, I would say I also loved the points at which action would be paused and a narrator would come and describe the history, especially when it placed these two girls/women in a more concrete social context. But this didn’t happen very often. I felt the overall story could benefit from a more carefully constructed metanarrative. In short, I wanted more from this world under the sky than this particular incarnation of Once Under a Sky could give me.

Having said this, it was amazing how much of the story did actually work in the Fringe (as a Tent!) without all the benefits of a full production (a Kit Home). The performers really know how to infuse a blank space with meaning. They played absurdly with scale (who knew a spit ball and the sea could have the same function?), they created remarkably labour-intensive props for single moments (a person-sized, presumably hand-knitted, bag!), and created a meaningful and complex relationship between the two characters who at times seemed almost like strangers and at other times the seemed almost like lovers. In short: if the Fringe Production was designed as a tester to see if it should be developed further, I’d say the answer to that is unequivocally “yes”.

TRANSPORT: I live shamefully close to The Newtown Theatre, relative to the amount of times i’ve attended the space. Basically, I rode to The Hub. 30 seconds from my house. And rode down King St for about 1.5 minutes. Stopping at the Pastizzi Cafe for Pastizzi (don’t forget to order their special tomato sauce with your Pastizzi) for 5 minutes. Then rode on to the Newtown Theatre. 1 minute. The journey from door to door, including an eat-in-dinner 8 minutes. As I have never said before, but I will say it again, two wheels are much better than none.

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