Melbourne Festival: Lady Eats Apple

I’m still thinking about Back to Back Theatre’s Lady Meets Apple. I want to talk about it, but want to hold it safe and close so that its meaning stays between the performers and me.


Lady Eats Apple. Melbourne Festival. Photo by Jeff Busby
Lady Eats Apple. Melbourne Festival. Photo by Jeff Busby

The Melbourne Festival world premiere – it’s heading around the world – is a much-anticipated, and well-funded, work by the Geelong-based company that continue to question how the world perceives intellectual disability and theatre.

Following from the sold-out international acclaim of Ganesh Versus the Third Reich (one of the best things I’ve seen), this work started its development with ensemble member Simon Laherty saying he wanted to make a tragedy. The six-member ensemble are the only full-time paid ensemble in Victoria

This tragedy starts with a loved creation myth and the downfall of those who were there.

In an inflated taut black cavern-cum-womb in a disconcerting space somewhere in Hamer Hall, two on-stage roadies in black t-shirts demand more of the dark empty world that they control.

As their god status becomes clear, the pissed-off and insecure young god (Scott Price) –”What if god is one of us?” – thinks that the older and more frustrated god (Brian Lipson) – “Who is like god?” – treats him like a “dumb shit” and declares his one true status by creating animals.  The creatures are named by the first man (Mark Deans) and woman (Sarah Mainwaring), who ask their god for more boundaries than merely knowing that they shouldn’t eat an apple.

When the older god collapses, the blackness disappears – there’s nothing like an audience gasping together – and time begins.

Apparently the next section is 20 minutes, but it could be moments or an eternity as the world becomes white and breathes and move as shapes appear and the music and sounds in our headphones – the whole show is heard through headphones – offer few clues. It’s hard to see if the faraway shadows are human. They look like Ewoks or monks and I think I saw a man carry a long and heavy burden on his shoulder.

It ends as the whiteness falls and the audience is faced with the enormity of the orange velvet, three-level emptiness of the concert hall. The secrets are revealed; what was so mysterious and unseeable is clear. And cleaners (Deans, Laherty, Mainwaring, Price and Romany Latham) – the people we never see when we sit in that theatre – fight about their right to take a juicy bite of all that’s on the forbidden but reachable tree.

Its dramaturgy is complex but so gentle that its truth acts more on an unconscious level and doesn’t feel clear until it circles back to its beginning and the extraordinary manifests out of the ordinary.

Under Bruce Gladwin’s direction, Lady Eats Apple confronts audiences with their own perceptions humanity and never allows a moment of ease or complicity as their audience are left to create their own meaning or struggle to understand.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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