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Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 2012
Created and Performed by Jen McArthur
Kallo Collective

at Gryphon, Wellington
From 25 Feb 2012 to 27 Feb 2012
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Caoilinn Hughes, 26 Feb 2012

Jen McArthur's performance is comically inventive, narratively compelling, physically punctilious and creatively winning in her one-woman show Echolalia. It runs until tomorrow (February 27th) at Gryphon Theatre as part of the Wellington Fringe Festival.

Though produced by the international physical theatre and contemporary circus company Kallo Collective, Echolalia is a created and performed by Jen McArthur, with direction from the other members of the collective (Jo Randerson, Thom Monckton, Mel Hamilton, Sampo Kurppa and Fraser Hooper).

McArthur presents a socially stunted and behaviorally eccentric character, influenced by the supposed ‘social weirdness' of autistic children (who McArthur observed while working with them on a holiday programme). However, the performance does not constitute a staging or analysis of autism or autistic social interactions; rather, it deals with the individual human experience and overcoming of psychological obstacles or fears.

As McArthur explains: “I became interested in the strength of the human spirit to overcome obstacles, no matter how eccentric the obstacle, or how eccentric the methods used to overcome them.” If the obstacle is how to pull off a largely non-vocal one-woman show during a Fringe festival alongside an International Arts Festival, then McArthur overcomes the obstacle marvelously and irrefutably.

Using contemporary, poetic clownery, beautifully-measured theatrics and surprising, expressive dance, Echolalia tells a story of a young woman, Echo, trying to leave her house for a job interview on three consecutive days. The minor obstacles are the three phone conversations she must have to arrange the interviews. The major obstacle is the front door, which represents the intermediary between her routine-ridden comfort zone (however odd some of the rituals are: think, brushing your arm hairs and lunging your way to the kettle) and the pressure-ridden rituals and social situations that lie beyond it.

The attention-to-detail in the performance is highly satisfying, and there is no doubt that this is a world-class physical theatre comic. Wellington-born McArthur trained at the NZ School of Dance,Circomedia Circus School Bristol and under the internally-renowned Lecoq clown teacher Giovanni Fusetti.

Not only is the performance tried, tested and perfected (Echolalia premiered last year at BATS, and the script has since been reworked with the assistance of Jo Randerson), but it is original, heart-felt and poignant.

It is something when you can say about a performance that both Charlie Chaplin and Samuel Beckett would have been proud (think Happy Days' Winnie stuck in her pile of earth, going through her routines).

There are levels of meaning which carry on after you leave: Was there some statement of feminism with the-woman's-place-is-in-the-home evocations; the Aunt Daisy's Household Tips recitations? Was there an intentional androgyny, then? What was the relationship between the expressionist dance towards the end and the post-modern meta-theatricality/ audience interrogation? Was there something Pinteresque in the unspoken 'outside'?

For an hour-long show, prompting those kinds of questions is a feat of artistry. If you see nothing else in the Fringe Festival…  
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