Thursday, September 17, 2015

They Saw A Thylacine, Malthouse, Review (may need tweeking because of late night and tired).

They Saw A Thylacine

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose

I don't know, but it seems to be drawing a long bow to call this piece a play. Doesn't a play usually have set design, props, acting, costumes, that sort of thing? Thylacine had literally none of these things. Well almost literally none of them. So was it even really a play?

Maybe, maybe not. I suspect it was more an hour of story-telling, rather than a play in which the story is played out. More about this later.

They Saw A Thylacine tells the story of the last days of the almost mythical Tasmanian Tiger, the last captive one dying in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936. There are two stories told in tandem, one told by Beatrice, a tracker hoping to find and capture what she considers a noble creature; and another told by Alison Reid, daughter of the zoo keeper of Beaumaris Zoo, where the tragically neglected Benjamin spent her dying days.

That's right – Ben the Tasmanian Tiger that you can still see prowling his cage on youtube is a she. They Saw A Thylacine is as much a commentary on our clumsy and insensitive mismanagement (in this case, complete ignorance) of environmental issues as it is on the ineptitude of the blinkered patriarchal way of thinking. The tracker, in the wilderness, encounters the brutality of man (and is a formidable opponent), and the zoo keeper's daughter, in “civilisation” encounters bureaucracy (Good Lord that's a hard word to spell late at night) at its most idiotic. She is also strong, but not strong enough to prevent the extinction of a species.

Back to the question of is this a stage play or is it something else... there is some subtle acting going on. The character of the hunter (Alfred Alfred?) is actually quietly very funny. It's all done by suggestion, but this weird and knowing old bastard grows on you. And Beatrice with her truncated syntax suggests something early Aboriginal, perhaps invoking the spirit of Truganini, generally considered the last Tasmanian Aborigine. Also female, like Ben the last Tasmanian Tiger. Both were horribly mistreated.

Is it theatre or is it a radio play on stage? Shouldn't a theatre-going audience expect more bang for their buck? Certainly the last couple of Malthouse productions (I Am A Miracle and Antigone) have been rich in staging, so it was kinda nice for this bum on a seat to see some pared-back performance that engaged with minimal everything except story. When you get down to it, you really don't need much more than a good story well told. And this delivered.

Malthouse Theatre until October 4th.

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