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Production

Sea Peach

Company

Down Dog Productions

Reviewer

Ng Yi-Sheng

Date

04/03/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Esplanade Theatre Studio

Rating

***1/2

Speaking Peach

Sea Peach is a language unto itself. Like a Dr Seuss on peyote, performer Catherine Kidd has bred a truly unique mode of storytelling, uniting her eccentric, rhyming narration with animal metaphor and gymnastic physical theatre. Hers is a language that's lively, startling, nuanced, strange even to the patient ear and, above all, quite difficult to digest. Simply put, you're as likely to love it as to hate it.

I fall in between the two camps: I at first found myself piqued, suspicious, confused, as I watched Kidd break into the first of her six vignettes, clad in a lime-green cocktail dress and a pink feather boa, playing an asylum inmate on a trip to the zoo. While I understood all her words, cunningly strung into couplets as they were, I felt an incredible barrier of communication between player and audience: though her rhymes were unforced and often witty, they exhibited an unfamiliar sing-song quality which she never sought to break with a more conversational mode of speech. Her cavorting on a ladder and a beach ball only served to emphasise the distance between us and her: she was the madwoman, talking her own lingo, the self-centered artist who had left the dumb spectator outside, not privy to her world, ignored, barely welcome.

Then we came to her second vignette, an autobiographical piece about the strangeness of having sex with her boyfriend, the Buffalo Man, and I was caught up in the rhythms of her prose, by her insights into how strange the body looks split into portions up close; captivated by the rhythm of her repeated cycle of descriptions for the act of coition: "pelagic and slow, anthropophagic peepshow, sudorific tic-tac-toe..." Here, I realised, Kidd had built a bridge between the world of her new language and the audience member, connecting through the recognition of universal bodily experience, reinforced by the intimacy of the confessional. In this scene, Kidd notably broke from her rhyme scheme at times to deliver more human orations to the audience, finding a middle ground between the foreign territory of her imagination and the world as we understand it.

Sea Peach was always riding this line between solipsism and communication, which is perhaps what makes it such a daring work, for it managed to entertain at the same time as it delved for more profound artistic depths. Kidd's extremely technically proficient training in physical acting was a godsend here: she won the audience easily with a sly imitation of her pet iguana, flicking its tongue out in the sun, and she effected an astonishing transformation into an old man when she played the part of her father. Yet even when I had been initiated into the shape of her language, it was just as it easy to find it cumbersome, tiring, not worth the bother - a sensation I experienced suddenly as she narrated the bizarre fable of the horse-leech, perhaps too far removed from human reality for my imaginative tolerance.

My verdict on this play is that it does and it does not work; it speaks and it does not speak to the heart; it thrills and bores, it charms and it chafes, it delights and it deserts. Perhaps it could have been better dressed for our minds if the tales were rearranged, the intensity of the performer's artful language modulated more, so that at times she might speak to us almost in our own voices. Yet even as is, Kidd succeeds in transporting the soul for a while into alternative landscapes of the mind, breaking fresh ground with her dramatic medium, with her very speech.

The sea peach itself is thus an apt image to represent this play, for as Kidd explains in her ultimate vignette, it is an animal, one of the chordates, like humans and whales, which nonetheless evolved to grow its spine into a tap root of the seabed instead of a mobile part of the skeleton. Sea Peach explores a different means of individual expression. Love it or hate it, you can't help but admire the mouth from which the new language springs.


"Like a Dr Seuss on peyote, performer Catherine Kidd has combined a style of eccentric, rhyming narration with gymnastic physical theatre, breeding a new, truly unique mode of storytelling"

More Reviews by Ng Yi-Sheng

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.