06 November 2018 (released)
07 November 2018
Chris Goode, the writer/performer in Mirabel, currently on at the Ovalhouse, treats us to a poetic tour-de-force in this fascinating, fantasy-driven production. Goode’s play opens with an apocalypse which leaves Mirabel, an eight-year-old girl, as a lone survivor in the world until she discovers that her teddy bear is also alive. The two of them set off through the surrounding wasteland in search of an adult, since Mirabel has been told that this is what you do when you’re lost and alone. Along the way, they encounter a few other survivors of the apocalyptic disaster and form a little group to travel on together and the core of the play comes out of the conversations and interactions between the characters. This is not a play for children, although the plot line sounds like it.
The story is beautifully narrated and performed by Goode who is the solo performer – the dialogue of the play is structured as a narrative poem, full of verbal musicality and playfulness and lovingly recited – one can feel the pleasure that Goode has as the words flow out and he recites. Anyone who loves poetry will get great pleasure out of this performance. The poetic narrative successfully uses wit and playfulness as a counterbalance to the serious context and gives a variety and lightness that lets us move along an otherwise increasingly dark path.
In addition to the musical quality of the poetry, there is a plot line here – the play is framed in a mythic and symbolic narrative. Its structure is like the Wizard of Oz – a disaster setting a young girl off on a mythic adventure. The play uses the structure of a typical mythical quest into the unknown, paralleling the experience of self-discovery. Mirabel knows on some level that the point of the journey has something to do with her encounter with the characters she meets and her own discoveries about herself and her world, through them.
The play’s musical and sound accompaniment (Matt Padden) work very effectively to reinforce the mood and feeling of the play, from the powerful reverberations at the apocalyptic opening and then consistently throughout the play. The same is true for the set design (Naomi Dawson) a series of light see-through curtains with a door-opening at the centre, which work well to express the journey. In addition, at one point, the curtain is used for a projection of illustrations – a very effectively use of animation (Lou Sumray) which, like the music, adds depth and dimension to the narrative. The projected drawing, like the music and sound, sustain the rhythm of the poetry and reinforce the tone and mood of the play. More of both elements would have been welcome at a point when the narrative of the journey begins to repeat itself.
The Wizard of Oz ends with Dorothy back in bed and the dream-like myth explained as a fever-dream. Here there is also an attempt to provide an explanatory coda for Mirabel, but both in tone and content, it seems to bring in a new subject rather than come organically from the previous story. This is reflected in the change in tone and style of the play. The lovingly read poetry, turns into a rant and the poetry itself becomes prosaic. Even the manner of reading feels rushed with pages of the script read rather than recited from memory and then dropped to the floor as if in symbol of a forced and unhappy relationship to that part of the text. In any case, the resonance, mystery and mythic quality of the play stand better alone and lose something in the effort to try to provide an explanatory coda. It’s unfortunate, as the coda seems to contain interesting subject matter that would be better material for a different play. Here it feels like an ill-fitting add-on to an otherwise superb and enjoyable production and performance.