MY BEAUTIFUL DISASTER
14/02/2013 - 17/02/2013
Beautiful Disaster Strikes Wellington
Christchurch crew brings a china-smashing story of fear, tea, disasters and freedom
“Do you believe in disasters? In Christchurch, we do” – says Nataliya Oryshchuk, the producer and the lead actress of the show My Beautiful Disaster.
After its first successful season in Christchurch, My Beautiful Disaster is coming to the Wellington Fringe Festival, at the
14-17 February 2013
The Christchurch performers are keen to share their story with a Wellington audience.
… Lonely Frau Agnieszka lives in a big house by the sea. Surrounded by her lovely tea cups and other knick-knacks, she is deeply afraid of the unknown disaster that creeps closer with every tick of the clock…
The unknown disaster that creeps closer with every tick of the clock…
Inspired by the works of Tove Jansson, our show strongly relates to the earthquake experiences of Christchurch residents. At times funny, at times frightening, it combines comedy, drama, physical theatre and circus to tell the story of imaginary and real disasters, emotional liberation and re-birth.
At times funny, at times frightening, this show combines comedy, drama and physical theatre to tell the story of imaginary and real disasters.
Members of the Christchurch audience commented:
“So expressive, so personal, such huge onstage personality. A delightful piece of theatre/performance art reflecting on the power of catastrophe as a cathartic release from fear, routine, mundanity…” (Daniel Webster, Christchurch)
“Crisp, honest, never pretentious and a bit different. This piece is a cameo: a very pure and simple little story with a gloriously real and affirming end… It is a beautiful, moving thing to see and share” (Nona Verwoerd, Canterbury)
“Excellent show! Great visuals and some nice eerie moods” (John Boyce, Christchurch)
This physical theatre project was awarded the 2012 Scribble Circus Fund and features Ukrainian-born Christchurch-based theatre and circus performer Nataliya Oryshchuk (Agnieszka, producer, script-writer), actress Stephanie Cusick (Gunda), and the dancers and acrobats Cameron Mason, K.B.G. Purple and Amber Liberte (Creepy-Crawlies). Co-directed by Nataliya Oryshchuk and Damien McGrath, original music and soundscape by Charlotte Crone.
It is a family friendly show, though young children might find some scenes frightening. Recommended age PG10. Duration approximately 40 minutes. Tickets $15/$12. Book on http://www.dashtickets.co.nz/
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 26th Feb 2013
There’s always something quirky and unusual on offer during a Fringe Festival.
My Beautiful Disaster is presented by a Christchurch group who, of course, are well acquainted with disasters.
A howling wind (excellent sound effects throughout by Charlotte Crone) and a nervous sensibility puts the prim Frau Agniszka on edge as she serves tea to her visitor. When her visitor leaves in some confusion, Agniszka is confronted with her fears represented by what are called Creepy-Crawlies, three frightening figures who wreak havoc with her precious knick-knacks and furniture.
But the beauty of this very simple and strikingly presented story is that Agniszka not only survives but becomes a stronger, bolder person. At only 40 minutes long, it needs a companion piece of similar length to accompany it.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A very unnatural disaster
Review by Caoilinn Hughes 15th Feb 2013
It is a difficult and onerous task to represent anxiety disorders in any art form, particularly so when the anxiety being represented is one as crippling as the fear of natural disasters. Even more so when this is being represented in a country where natural disasters have occurred, and audience members will likely include sufferers of the phobia.
Authenticity, relateability and sincerity are key, even if there is no positive outcome or catharsis allowed. Accurately representing the condition is crucial, if the goal of the performance is to ask (as the play in question literally asks): “Can you understand? Have you ever felt this way?”
That is what drew me to the production My Beautiful Disaster, written, co-directed and acted by Ukrainian-born Nataliya Oryshchuk. I thought: this is bound to be heart-felt and authentic, if the play is written and performed by the same person; at least there won’t be the issue of the performer not carrying off the script.
I would like to address the play itself, independently of the performance. The programme describes the plot simply as: “Lonely Frau Agnieszka lives in a big house by the sea. Surrounded by her lovely tea cups and other knick-knacks, she is deeply afraid of the unknown disaster that creeps closer and closer with every tick of the clock…” Already, I was sceptical of the writing. A person with real fear of natural disasters would not live by the sea – I hate to say, but I can speak from experience.
Yes, there is a sentence halfway through the play that tries to explain this, but it is not enough. If the character must live by the sea, then the reason behind that needs to be central to the play: is the character living there in defiance; in a brave attempt to face her fear every minute of every day? Is she financially-bound somehow to the house? The reason would give the character some depth, and help to complicate her place in the world. (The play is sparse of all detail – all the textures of location and narrative – in an almost Pinteresque sense; but, unfortunately, without actually being absurdist.)
From that program sentence alone, there are more issues, besides the patronising and misrepresentative description of her “lovely tea cups and knick-knacks.” “She is deeply afraid,” it says. Deeply afraid doesn’t really cut it, when you’re talking about a severe anxiety like this. It is the difference between being ‘very tired’ and being an insomniac. She is cripplingly nervous with the phobia. She is unable to carry out simple, everyday tasks. The problem with the program description, and the play as a whole, is that it doesn’t seem sure exactly what it is trying to represent.
Some moments, Frau Agnieszka is playful and giddy: she wears a sparkly birthday hat; she makes faces at herself; she moves like a marionette; she is caricatured. At other moments, she seems to be trying to display naturalistic, emotionally-resonant anxiety and terror: climbing under the table, suffering headaches and agonies from her nervousness, being uncomfortably aware of the ticking sound of the clock and the swell of the waves outside. Because there is no consistency in the style of representation, it is hard to know what she is doing or going to do.
The few moments the character is meant to be breaking down – suffering a panic attack – performer Oryshchuk covers her face with her hands, so we can’t see any genuine feeling. Comically ticking eyes will have to do. Comedy? Tragedy? Absurdity? Realism? Soap opera? Drama? Melodrama?
Moreover, the character suffers from on-and-off Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (think polishing teacups, repeatedly repositioning picture frames, and supposedly washing the carpets in seawater every day). This disorder is quite an unusual one to pair with a crippling fear of natural disasters: the former condition is all about control; putting things in order; having patterns and schedules and tidiness and logic. The latter condition has to do with lack of control: the fear that at any given moment, one’s world can be broken into and destroyed by an ungovernable, unfeeling force. They conditions are contradictory.
However, this could have been very interesting, in being so unusual… if it had been thought-through; if it had been fully explored; if it had been convincing in the slightest.
There is a second character, Gunda (played flatly by Stephanie Cusick) who comes to visit Frau Agnieszka. Why? We’re not really sure. Out of a sense of obligation, perhaps? Gunda is uncomfortable from the first minute, she makes no effort at conversation, her character is written almost misogynistically. Again, if it were clear that Gunda were a caricature of a materialistic, unfeeling snob, then it would have been justifiable that the character has absolutely no depth or credibility at all, but it is not clear whether she is meant to be a cartoon or a human. She comes and goes without showing a single moment of humanity, or depth of character. She asks just before she leaves: “Has a disaster ever actually happened to you?” To which Frau says, “No, but …” So Gunda leaves, happily suggesting the use of vinegar on the carpets.
The fact that Gunda is an irresponsible human being doesn’t really matter, because she isn’t a human being at all. If the point of the play is to say ‘society doesn’t understand this phobia,’ it is not effectively communicated. Where is the embarrassment, the self-reproach, the statistics learned by rote in defence of your fear? I have gone to people in moments of severe anxiety, and they have said: “Let’s have a beer and watch House. That’ll give you something to worry about!”
People simply aren’t cruel in the simplistic way represented in My Beautiful Disaster; and if they are, then they should be fascinating characters on stage. We should want to know: how can they be so callous? Is Gunda actually fearful that Frau Agnieszka is manic? Does she fear for her own safety, perhaps? Does she think the phobia might be contagious, if she spends too much time considering it? That would be interesting.
There are three other performers involved in this production: dancers and acrobats Cameron Mason, K.B.G. Purple and Amber Liberte, described in the program as Creepy-Crawlies. These three characters are dressed in blue body socks that cover their faces. They represent fear (faceless).
These sock-monsters open the play by skulking around in the dark and sniffing. Are they trying to invoke fear in the audience? They appear in various contemporary-dance interludes through the play. One of the three seems to be an acrobat, and does some incongruous flips. Who knew ‘fear’ could do cartwheels.
These scenes are frankly bizarre and, again, it is a strange mishmash of styles, aesthetics and confusing intentions. It would have been so much more powerful if these three fear-mongers stood still at the back of the stage for the entire duration of the play. Fear is always there: maybe they could step closer at times. Or perhaps I am missing the metaphor in fear doing back-flips.
Finally, there is the closing scene, which I will briefly say something about. In the penultimate scene, there is an actual earthquake, or a storm, where all Frau Agnieszka’s belongings fall to the floor and shatter. She is safely tucked under the table. After this scene, the lights glow bright yellow, indicating the calm after the storm. The program promises “emotional liberation and re-birth.” This promise of catharsis is a very uncomfortable one, given that a real disaster supposedly took place. In reality, people die and houses are destroyed. If the play feels it needs to offer a ‘re-birthing’ scene, it must be extremely sensitive to the fact that there are real implications for families who endure natural disasters.
I find it very hard to believe that someone whose worst fears have been realized would literally dance around in the ruins of their home, post-disaster, and punch their family pictures out of their frames in order to give a clown-like grin through the frame. Frau Agnieszka encourages the audience to partake in wrapping her in celebratory crepe ribbons. She twists around in them: an action absolutely incongruous to either a person who suffers from OCD or fear of death (she could choke.)
This scene does not do justice to the mental health conditions represented, nor is it credible or cathartic. In the end, it is a circus performance, which is what Nataliya Oryshchuk does, when she is not writing, producing, starring in and directing plays.
My Beautiful Disaster is, in short, a very unnatural disaster.
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