“an interesting experience for theatre goers who like their plays cryptic and undetermined”
Fix is a play about an old woman who lives alone in a mysterious wood, and a repairman who comes to mend her very old washing machine. Julie Tsang’s play is part thriller, part mystery, all set in a puzzling location that could be a forest in, well, just about anywhere. But before one starts thinking Grimm’s Brothers’ fairytale, it is clear that the Chinese woman, Li Na, who inhabits the house, is no western witch waiting to ensnare young children with sweets. She is, however, clearly part of a Chinese mythology, either traditional or reimagined, who may, or may not, have dragons in her attic.
The premise for this story is straightforward, but from the moment Kevin arrives at Li Na’s house, everything else dissolves into ambiguity. So it is for the audience—the moment we enter the downstairs space at the Pleasance Theatre. The set (designed by Rachel Wingate) is low lit (lights designed by Ali Hunter), and the fog in the air creates a further sense of indistinct boundaries. The seating bleeds into the set on one side. So it’s a nice touch when the cast enters the back of the stage from the street and injects a sense of a concrete world outside before enclosing us once again in this enigmatic space. Added to all this mist and mystery is Richard Bell’s sound design, which is also highly appropriate to the theme, and which adds yet another layer of doubt.
The play begins with a voice telling us a myth about a “magnificent tree on six legs.” Then Kevin steps into the house, and his first response is to tell Li Na, very firmly, that her washing machine is too expensive to fix, and that she’s better off just buying a new one. Things get weird. Li Na doesn’t want a new machine, despite having the money to buy one. She wants this one fixed, and fixed tonight. She has money, she has beer if Kevin’s thirsty, she has tea for his headache. She keeps repeating, ominously, that he “will be here awhile.” She asks a lot of questions about whether her house is the last call of the day, and whether he has anyone he needs to go home too. Playwright Tsang has great skill in building suspense. Actors Mikey Anthony-Howe and Tina Chiang present characters Kevin and Li Na as fully rounded and believable. Fix is ably supported by Jen Tan’s direction.
But the problem with Fix is that, plot wise, it wanders in much the same way that Kevin once wandered through Li Na’s woods as a boy. At any point during the play, the audience might be wondering “is this the moment dragons burst through the ceiling”? “Why does Li Na steal a tool from Kevin’s tool bag if she’s not planning to brain him with it”? And despite all these warnings that something is not quite right in Li Na’s house, Kevin doesn’t seem to want to escape nearly enough. Instead, this experience is a seventy minute stroll through a series of shifting situations from a real problem (fixing the washing machine) to less explicit problems (what else has Kevin been summoned to fix?) with a lack of a clear resolution at the end.
In conclusion, Fix is best summed up as an interesting experience for theatre goers who like their plays cryptic and undetermined. It does take a fresh look at the more traditional murder mystery, but even that may be reading too much into this perplexing situation.
“The various manifestations of beauty onstage are almost enough to distract from all the skill and athleticism on show”
The remarkable French Canadian company Cirque du Soleil has now been performing since 1984. From small beginnings just outside Quebec City, its founders, Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, have built a large multi-national group of circus performers and musicians who tour around the world. But these are no ordinary circus shows. They create spectacles that are as memorable for the extraordinary fusion of music, dance, and design, as they are for daredevil acrobatics. To see one show by Cirque is to come away thinking that they will never create anything as wonderful again. Then you return for a different production, and realise that they, once again, exceed your wildest imaginings.
For it is wild imagination that fuels Cirque du Soleil, and their latest show, Luzia. It is described as a “waking dream of Mexico”, and there is something truly dream-like about this show. From the moment you reach your seat in the vast space of the Albert Hall, you notice that something unusual has occurred. A performing space, surrounded by marigolds, has been created in the centre of this concert hall, and this connects by way of a raised platform to the back of the auditorium where a large metallic disc hangs in space. Not only that, but as the show begins we see the performing space is built on a revolve. The creative team that designed and manages the sound, lighting, projection and rigging for what follows is enough to win one’s admiration for Luzia right there.
But Cirque du Soleil is not content to simply create a noteworthy space. Right from the start, the audience is drawn into this “dream of Mexico” with the sound of the cicadas and the music which encompasses the many traditions of music from this multicultural country. Add to that the vivid colours that Mexico is famous for in the costumes and makeup of the performers, and your senses are already in danger of overload. But there’s more. Remarkable puppets such as horses and jaguars gallop or slink on stage, and the musicians, as often as not, wear crocodile or fishes’ heads. The circus performers themselves appear as monarch butterflies, or brightly coloured birds. Some look like lizards, and imitate them as well, as they slither up poles and drop alarmingly fast, catching themselves just in time, the way real lizards do. Some are there as comic distraction, such as a trio of flowering cacti. The Mexican reverence for water appears in several forms, from a deep sea diver swimming in the sea, to tropical deluges of warm water that create a small pool into which a graceful aerialist ascends and descends, all the while watched by a curious jaguar. But if you worry about becoming lost or disoriented in this otherworldly creation, there’s always the Fool to bring you back to earth with his clowning. His antics are warmly welcomed by the audience, while an army of performers and stage hands run on to dry the stage and prepare for the next act. It’s all adroitly managed.
The various manifestations of beauty onstage are almost enough to distract from all the skill and athleticism on show. But the costumes, lighting and staging of each act are so carefully put together that each piece seems a seamless part of an acrobatic poem in motion. You might think you are just imagining a juggler with six silver pins spinning around him, or girls in golden hoops spinning around the stage, but they’re all there, right in front of you. You might wonder if you’re dreaming the monarch butterfly with wings that brush the edge of the performance space; or a troupe of acrobats dressed in flowered costumes who achieve dizzying heights as they catapault each other from swing to swing. It doesn’t seem possible that Cirque du Soleil can keep up this fiesta of the senses—but let’s not forget the contortionist who, on his perspex platform, creates a trippy exhibition of all the things you were convinced the human body couldn’t do.
Once again, Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia exceeds my expectations, and I can’t wait to see what this company comes up with next. Will they exceed yours?