REVIEW: Arts House Presents WHELPING BOX

An audience left fascinatingly at odds…

By Myron My

After the latest Arts House production Whelping Box was over, I overheard one woman describe it as “dirty smelly boys doing naughty things”. But my experience with this show had me both appreciating and feeling so much more.

Upon entering the Arts House Meat Market I am led to a 9m x 9m blackened square wooden arena. Sitting in the square, I am very close to the action and eventually I can’t help but feel like I am part of the action, which is quite confronting at times.

Whelping Box

The two performers, Matt Prest and Lee Wilson, appear from the darkness and despite their playfulness with each other, there is a strong undercurrent of something more sinister and primitive lurking beneath. With each activity or task they move through, the atmosphere deteriorates to a level of primal instinct and human baseness. The visual transformation of Prest and Wilson, with their matted hair, fierce physique and aggressive movement further strengthened this idea.

Sound and light plays a major part in creating the mood for Whelping Box. Performing in various states of darkness, brightness and coloured light, you do feel almost helpless as others control what you can and can’t see. The sensorial experience of this production includes pre-recorded banging and clanging being played from various points around the square that Prest and Wilson have previously made in rehearsals. Along with the sounds they make in the performance, I did feel quite enveloped and disoriented by it as I tried to distinguish what was real and what was not.

It is interesting to note that what I experienced as intimidating and affecting during much of the show, other people found funny, which made me wonder if I was missing something? I was having quite a visceral response and the laughter ultimately made the experience even more intense, and made me speculate if that was what the creators had actually been hoping for here.

However, I did get confused during their Norse mythology scenes and struggled to connect what I was seeing to what had earlier transpired and consequently lost some of its impact. Eventually Whelping Box found its way, and I was able to reconnect with the performance again.

Along with collaborators Clare Britton and Mirabelle Wouters, Prest and Wilson have certainly created something unique with Whelping Box. I will confess I am unsure if I am feeling what they wanted me to (or whether the woman I overheard or the laughing audience were, perhaps) but my experience was definitely an unusual range of emotions that I don’t often get to feel in theatre.

Venue: Arts House, Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne.

Season: Until 8 September | Wed- Sat 9:00pm, Sat 3:30pm, Sun 6:30pm

Tickets: $30 Full | $20-25 Conc

Bookings: http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/ArtsHouse or 9322 3713

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